'The game against Serbia is a cup final. It's all or nothing'
CHRIS Coleman insists Wales will do everything possible to ensure Gareth Bale plays some part in tonight's "must-win" match against Serbia.
Wales approach the qualifier knowing they cannot reach next summer's World Cup in Brazil and that another defeat would all but end hopes of finishing third in Group A.
Last Friday's 2-1 loss in Macedonia left Coleman's side in fifth, trailing that night's opponents and Serbia as well as the pool's top two Belgium and Croatia.
If beaten again, they would be five points adrift of third-placed Serbia, and have to win both remaining games against Macedonia and unbeaten group leaders Belgium to have any chance of overhauling them.
Win and they would close the gap on Serbia to two points and have a game in hand.
Finishing third is seen as key to ensure improved seeding ahead of the Euro2016 qualification group draw.
"Tonight's game is a cup final. It's all or nothing," said Coleman.
"I don't want to put any extra pressure on the players because they're only young, but these are the facts.
"I know we're in for a fight, it will be a really tough game. But if we can perform as I know we can, things will look a lot better for us.
"We've got to finish as high as we can to get us in a good position for the Euros.
"Going into the Macedonia game everything was great. Now we've lost a game I'm under pressure and I need a win."
Key to Coleman's hopes could be the fitness of Bale.
The world's most expensive player was an unused substitute four days ago, with Coleman revealing afterwards he never had any chance of playing.
Bale has been battling a foot injury for much of the summer and yesterday underwent a scan after suffering a muscle strain in training.
Coleman was criticised for his decision to select Bale in his squad even though the winger was not fit enough to feature.
The Wales boss defended that tactic before stressing that Wales will do all they can to ensure Bale is involved this evening.
But he admitted the new Real Madrid capture will not be able to start.
"I put Gareth in the squad last Friday because maybe I was trying to be a bit clever with their manager. Obviously it didn't work because we lost," said Coleman.
"We knew he couldn't come on, but they didn't know that.
"If Gareth says to me he can play a part, he's coming on the pitch, there's no way he's not. If he can play for a second he'll be on. It's as simple as that.
"But I can't start him if he's not ready. He's done four training sessions in eight weeks, that's nowhere near enough no matter how good he is.
"If he'd said to me before the game he could play for 20 minutes, I would have played him for 30. I would have pushed it a little bit.
"But I can't do that if he says he's not ready. Even if we think he can, if the player says he can't that's it."
Also missing is Jonathan Williams after he picked up a groin strain against Macedonia, while Coleman revealed defender Sam Ricketts's knee injury will keep him out.
Centre-back Ashley Williams is suspended after being booked last Friday, while the likes of Neil Taylor, Jazz Richards and Neal Eardley were earlier withdrawals.
Danny Gabbidon is likely to come into the heart of defence, with another player operating out of position alongside him.
Leicester's Andy King or Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Andrew Crofts are the leading contenders to replace Williams.
Both Ricketts and Jonathan Williams were the victims of some strong arm tactics in Skopje.
Aaron Ramsey also looked to be targeted, and Coleman has called for greater protection at the Cardiff City Stadium.
"We've got what we've got. There are players missing but the game's going to come around and we'll have to deal with it. It's as simple as that," said the former Swansea defender.
"We've lost Johnny Williams and that means we've lost a bit of our rhythm.
"We don't want any more protection than anyone else, but you can't have a goalkeeper Kung-Fu kicking our players.
"You can't have a player blatantly elbowing one of our players in the throat when the referee's 15 yards away and makes no decision.
"The type of football we play, we don't play fight football, we try to be creative and the opposition can get a little bit annoyed with that because they can't get a touch of the ball.
"It can get a bit heavier, a bit naughty, I don't mind that, but that's what the officials are for."
Aside from chasing third place, Wales are also looking for revenge after being hammered the last time they played Serbia.
Coleman's side were thumped 6-1 in Novi Sad just over a year ago, in a match the former Fulham boss describes as the bleakest of his career.
"That was the darkest moment for me in this campaign and probably as a manager in my career," he added.
"That was not a good feeling, but we turned it around after that and we've done quite well since.
"In the cold light of day you can look at the results and it's five defeats in seven with two wins.
"But in the way in which we play we've got to go for wins.
"That's what we'll do against Serbia."