WALES battled to a creditable 1-1 draw with 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in Cardiff to stay in contention for a place at Euro 2020.

Gareth Bale cancelled out Nikola Vlasic’s early opener with a superbly-taken goal in first-half stoppage time to earn his side a vital point.

Ryan Giggs’ men are still in fourth place in Group E but they still have hope of qualifying for next summer’s tournament.

They know that victories in Azerbaijan and at home to Hungary in their final two games will be enough to seal the second qualifying berth, as long as Slovakia don’t beat group leaders Croatia.

The result was all the more impressive as Wales were again without Aaron Ramsey, who failed to recover from injury after missing Thursday’s draw in Slovakia.

Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren were all present and correct for Croatia, although Ivan Rakitic was only fit enough to make the bench.

The visitors looked supremely confident on the ball throughout and they dominated possession in the opening stages.

Josip Brekalo had an early opportunity but his shot in the sixth minute was so wayward that it went out for a throw-in to Wales.

But the Wolfsburg forward soon made amends as his incisive run from the left flank created the first goal in the ninth minute.

Brekalo breezed past Tom Lockyer and Connor Roberts before cutting the ball back to Bruno Petkovic, who laid it off for Vlasic to fire past Wayne Hennessey and into the bottom corner.

It was the least that Croatia deserved after a fine start and they would have doubled their lead but for a fine save from Hennessey to keep out a Perisic header.

Wales had an early shout for a penalty when Lovren barged Daniel James over in the box and Bale had half a chance when he cut in from the right and shot straight at Dominik Livakovic.

Bale also put a free-kick into the wall from 25 yards out, but Giggs’ men rarely threatened until first-half stoppage-time when they conjured a surprise equaliser.

Ben Davies, who was winning his 50th cap, was the unlikely instigator.

The Tottenham Hotspur left-back robbed Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the area and played a superb ball through the defence for Bale to control and slot past Livakovic.

The home fans, who had been frustrated by Wales’ reluctance to get the ball forward, erupted as Bale celebrated wildly in scenes reminiscent of his crucial winner against Belgium back in 2015.

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The Croats protested that Kovacic had been fouled by Davies and the midfielder failed to reappear after the interval as he was replaced by Rakitic.

Wales were also forced into a change shortly after the break when Ethan Ampadu came off worse in an aerial challenge with Petkovic, who was booked.

That meant Bristol City midfielder Joe Morrell, who is on loan at League One Lincoln City, was called into action against the superstars from Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Manchester United winger James, who suffered a blow to the head himself in the first half, had the visiting defence back-pedalling soon afterwards but his shot was palmed away by Livakovic.

Harry Wilson replaced the industrious Jonny Williams midway through the second half as Giggs targeted a statement win.

Croatia's Tin Jedvaj curled a shot high and wide from the edge of the area and Bale saw his effort deflected behind by teammate Kieffer Moore at the other end.

But that was as close as either side came to forcing the winner.

Wales: Hennessey; C. Roberts, Rodon, Lockyer, Davies; Allen, Ampadu (Morrell, 50); Bale, J. Williams (Wilson, 68), James; Moore (T. Roberts, 86)

Subs not used: Ward, A. Davies, Gunter, Taylor, A. Williams, Vokes, Lawrence, Matondo, Vaulks

Booked: Moore, Allen, James

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands)

Attendance: 31,745

Argus star man: Bale