Fire still burns bright, says Williams

CARDIFF — Wales captain Ashley Williams (pic) accepts there is no more margin for error in the pursuit of World Cup qualification.

Serbia’s late equaliser in a 1-1 draw in Cardiff on Saturday left Wales with an uphill battle to reach the 2018 finals in Russia.

The Euro 2016 semifinalists, who have let leads slip to draw their last three qualifiers, are four points adrift of Group D leaders Ireland and two behind second-placed Serbia.

The Welsh Dragons next head to Dublin in March.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Williams told reporters.

“We haven’t lost in the campaign and feel we can beat any team. If we have to win all our games we’re confident we can do that.

“It’s frustrating, to take the lead again and not win the game and keep a clean sheet.

“We expect to win games, especially at home, but we didn’t.”

Ireland have four of their next five games in Dublin, while Wales hit the road — they also go to Serbia in June.

“Ireland will be difficult, but it’ll be a close group right to the end,” said Williams.

“We have to play Ireland twice, Austria at home. We’ve got enough in our dressing room to win all.”

Williams said the Wales camp was hurting after Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic cancelled out Gareth Bale’s first half effort — his 26th for his country — five minutes from time.

It was a case of history repeating itself as Chris Coleman’s side lost leads against Austria and Georgia in October.

“The manager said ‘don’t drop your heads, it’s unlucky’,” said Williams.

“He’s hurting the same as we are.

“He’s reminded us we can still qualify as teams will take points off each other. It’s still wide open.” — Agencies

Joy ride

BRUSSELS — Striker Romelu Lukaku is finding playing in Roberto Martinez’s attack-minded Belgium side “fun” after scoring two goals in the 8-1 demolition of Estonia on Sunday.

The Belgians have been almost flawless in Group H of the World Cup qualifiers, with the win over Estonia at King Baudouin Stadium moving them to a maximum 12 points.

They have also scored 21 times and only conceded once.

Dries Mertens was in inspirational form, scoring twice and setting up two, with Lukaku adding a late double of his own.

Thomas Meunier, Eden Hazard and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco were also on the scoresheet with Ragnar Klavan scoring an own goal. Estonia replied through Henri Anier.

Speaking to VRT, Lukaku said: “How much was it again – 8-1, really?

“It’s fun to play in such an offensive team.

“We did a good analysis of the friendly against Holland (1-1), where we should’ve done better.

“We’ve scored eight and this is the standard we should try to keep to.

“The fans come to see a great game, they want to see us play like at our clubs and that’s what we’ve done.”

Martinez credited Lukaku for opening up the game.

“Romelu has a lot of strength and always attracts attention in the middle,” Martinez told Sporza.

“As a result, Mertens and Hazard had more space. The cooperation between the three was good.

“If Lukaku gets a look at the target, his finish is always pure. His goals are a reward for his work.”

Martinez took Hazard off in the second half after the Chelsea star took a kick to his calf, but the manager confirmed the player was not seriously injured. — Agencies

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