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Wales were caught cold by Tornike Okriashvili‘s second-half equaliser as they played out a 1-1 draw against Georgia in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier in Cardiff.
Gareth Bale headed home his 25th Wales goal in the 10th minute to move within three of Ian Rush‘s all-time national record as the hosts deservedly led after controlling the first half.
Chris Coleman‘s men took their foot off the pedal early in the second half, though, and Georgia took full advantage when Okriashvili ghosted in behind a static Wales defence to head home and restore parity.
Things could have been worse for Wales had Levan Mchedlidzenot missed a gilt-edged opportunity to steal the win, whileValeri Kazaishvili also rattled the woodwork.
Wales, who have never beaten Georgia, twice let the lead slip in Thursday’s 2-2 draw againstAustria and another failure to win means they have five points from three Group D matches.
Georgia, meanwhile, still face an uphill challenge to qualify for Russia 2018 with Vladimir Weiss’ men on one point.
Wales came flying out of the traps and Andy King‘s teasing right-wing centre was almost met by a sliding Bale.
And the hosts’ fine start yielded rewards with the opening goal when Bale rose highest to meet Joe Ledley‘s corner with a thumping header.
Bale continued to prove a menace and he tested Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria with a 25-yard free-kick before miscuing with another header from a Ledley corner.
Georgia had offered little threat in the final third, but Jano Ananidze saw a well-struck free-kick clip the top of the crossbar.
Bale stated after the Austria game that his long throw is an added “weapon” to hisarsenal and it was a tactic that almost led to a second goal whenSam Vokes headed wide.
Wales were handed a warning when Okriashvili dragged an effort wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the box.
Okriashvili made no mistake the next time, though. Kazaishvili crossed deep from the left and the forward was on hand to guide his header past a helpless Wayne Hennessey.
The equaliser briefly reinvigorated Wales and Bale dipped a long-range free-kick on the roof of the goal.
But the home side were let off the hook in the 73rd minute. Bale lost possession deep in Georgia’s half and a lightning counter-attack led to Mchedlidze going one-on-one with Hennessey, but he wastefully slid his shot wide.
Kazaishvili then almost won the match for Georgia in spectacular fashion, but his rasping drive cannoned back off the underside of the bar.
Bale saw another free-kick ripple the side-netting in the closing stages, but Wales had to settle for a point.