CARDIFF, United Kingdom (AFP) – Not even the substitute appearance of record-breaker Gareth Bale could spare Wales a 3-0 defeat by Serbia in Cardiff on Tuesday that dropped them to the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.
Goals from Filip Djordjevic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Lazar Markovic sealed victory for Serbia, who are unable to qualify for next year's finals in Brazil as they are too far behind Group A pacesetters Belgium, who need two points from two games to win the group, and Croatia, who are assured of at least second place.
Bale joined Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur last week in a deal widely reported to be the world's most expensive transfer at around ??86 million (100 million euros, $132.5 million).
The forward came on for his first competitive action since his move to the Spanish giants just before the hour mark and nearly scored with a late free-kick.
Bale had been doubtful for this match with a groin problem but the way he played suggested that, barring an adverse reaction, he should be fit enough to make his Real debut at Villarreal on Saturday.
But by the time he took the field, the match was over as a contest with Serbia already 3-0 up.
Wales manager Chris Coleman had stressed the importance of finishing third in the group in order to secure a better seeding for Euro 2016 qualification, but Scotland's win in Macedonia sent Wales bottom by a point, and they were booed off at full-time.
It took Serbia just eight minutes to open the scoring.
Kolarov's cross was headed straight at Wales goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, but the unmarked Djordjevic nodded in the rebound.
Wales, whose last appearance at a major finals came at the 1958 World Cup, fell further behind when Kolarov's fierce drive made it 2-0.
And it only took 10 minutes of the second half for Serbia to score their third goal at the Cardiff City Stadium against a Wales side weakened by injuries and suspensions.
The admirable Myhill made a fine save to deny Kolarov but none of his defenders could stop Markovic turning in the rebound.
Bale, on for Sam Vokes, stilled the jeers of the crowd with a couple of shots, Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic beating away one before the forward put the rebound wide.
And Stojkovic was called into action again late on, when he just tipped over a brilliant swerving and dipping Bale free-kick.