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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Radebe fights on
South Africa defender Lucas Radebe playing in Europe for Leeds
Radebe has not played for Leeds for more than a year

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For most players the chance to play in the World Cup finals is the realisation of a dream.

For defender Lucas Radebe it will signal the end of his worst nightmare.

Just four months ago Radebe feared his career was over after a terrible run of injuries.

Open Quote
I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet, but my experience will definitely stand the squad in good stead
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Lucas Radebe

"I don't know if I'll ever play in the Premiership again," he said in January. "I just don't know what the future holds.

"I don't want to end up a cripple but if I keep pushing myself, that could be a reality."

His Leeds manager David O'Leary advised him to start preparing for life after football.

But Radebe vowed to fight on and two months later he was given the green light to return to training after finally overcoming his ankle and knee problems.

To some the inclusion of the 33-year-old in Jomo Sono's 23-man squad on Tuesday was something of a surprise.

Lucas Radebe of South Africa
Radebe has played over 60 times for his country

After all he has not played a first team game for Leeds for over a year.

His recovery has included a few reserve team outings, an appearance in team-mate Gary Kelly's testimonial and 45 minutes for South Africa in Saturday's friendly against Madagascar.

But with captain Shaun Bartlett and defender Mark Fish already unavailable through injury, Radebe's experience will be vital for the young Bafana Bafana side.

Although 15 of the 23-man squad play their football in Europe, none of them can match Radebe's big-game experience.

He has played in over 200 games for Leeds and has more than 60 caps for his country, and would have had much more if not for persistent injuries.

He suffered knee ligament damage playing a Premiership match against Sunderland in March 2001.

Earlier that month Radebe had been part of the Leeds side that lost narrowly to Spanish giants Real Madrid 3-2 in the Champions League.

Radebe of Leeds
Radebe has been sidelined for over a year

They had already won away to Lazio, drawn at AC Milan and beaten Anderlecht home and away in Europe's premier competition.

The Johannesburg-born star was at the peak of his game.

As a youngster Radebe was a promising goalkeeper before being moved to the midfield. But Radebe was born to defend.

Before his injuries Radebe was recognised as one of the Premiership's best defenders, a superb reader of the game with the ability to shutdown the opposition's star forward.

He was the captain and leader of a youthful Leeds side that appeared destined for a long spell at the top of the English game.

However, it had not always been that way.

Radebe struggled in his first couple of years in England after a 250,000 move from Kaizer Chiefs in 1994.

He found life hard under manager Howard Wilkinson and then suffered his first career-threatening knee injury.

That kept him out the game for almost an entire season.

But he made a full recovery, found favour with new manager George Graham and went on to help South Africa to African Nations success on home soil in 1996.

Shining example

He became a Leeds regular and captained his country in their first ever World Cup finals in 1998.

On his return from France he was made Leeds skipper by Graham and when O'Leary took over as coach Radebe continued to prosper.

That was until injuries threatened to spell the end of his journey.

Now it appears he could be back on the road to success again.

Radebe's performances on the field and his determination off it have made him a hero back home, a shining example of what can be achieved if you want it badly enough.

The World Cup finals will be a fitting stage for him to complete his comeback.

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GROUP B
  P GD PTS
SPAIN 3 +5 9
PARAGUAY 3 0 4
SOUTH AFRICA 3 0 4
SLOVENIA 3 -5 0

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