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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
USA's road to the finals
Josh Wolff (centre) celebrates scoring in qualifying against Costa Rica
The USA's coach is just happy his team is at the finals
BBC Sport Online takes a closer look at America's stuttering qualification campaign.

The United States topped the medals table at the 2000 Olympics, hold three of golf's four major titles and boast five of the top 10 players in women's tennis.

But, despite a population of 280 million people, at the end of 2001 they were just one place above Slovenia in the Fifa world football rankings, in 24th place.

And, added to that, they managed only third place behind Costa Rica and Mexico in the Concacaf qualifying competition for the 2002 World Cup.

Aside from actually reaching their fourth consecutive World Cup, there were few other achievements along the way.

Qualifying campaign
Semi-final round
D 1-1 Guatemala (a)
L 1-2 Costa Rica (a)
W 7-0 Barbados (h)
W 1-0 Guatemala (h)
D 0-0 Costa Rica (h)
W 4-0 Barbados (a)
Final round
W 2-0 Mexico (h)
W 2-1 Honduras (a)
W 1-0 Costa Rica (h)
D 0-0 Jamaica (a)
W 2-0 T & Tobago (h)
L 0-1 Mexico (a)
L 2-3 Honduras (h)
L 0-2 Costa Rica (a)
W 2-1 Jamaica (h)
D 0-0 T & Tobago (a)
They notched up an impressive 11-0 aggregate win over minnows Barbados but could only draw with Guatemala (67th in the current world rankings).

In all the Americans won eight of their 16 matches, lost four (against Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica twice) and drew the remaining four.

Until 1 July 2001, the qualification had seemed a formality.

Then a 1-0 defeat by Mexico triggered losses to both Honduras and Costa Rica.

Nerves were finally settled with a game to spare last October when Joe-Max Moore scored twice against Jamaica in a 2-1 win.

Despite their late dip in form and the prospect of group matches against Portugal, South Korea and Poland, coach Bruce Arena is just happy to be heading for the finals.

The 50-year-old, who took charge in October 1998, said: "I think any group would have been fine with us.

"We are certainly pleased to be in the World Cup.

"Portugal are one of the top five teams in the world, so it will be quite difficult to get a point, let alone three points, against them.

Qualifying top goalscorers
8 - Earnie Stewart
4 - Joe-Max Moore
3 - Ante Razov
"Against Korea it will also be difficult with the home support they will receive, and Poland is a team that had a great run in qualifying."

The USA remain a relatively unknown quantity, with a new-look side featuring a number of domestic players breaking from the tradition of a predominantly European-based squad.

While the likes of Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), Moore (Everton) and Kasey Keller (Tottenham) still make up the backbone, at least half the places are going to players from Major League Soccer.

Among those to shine in qualification were Josh Wolff of the Chicago Fire and Clint Mathis of the New York/New Jersey Metrostars.

But, even with a host of rising stars and the backing of Pele to reach the knockout stages, against sides far tougher than Barbados, the USA could well struggle.

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GROUP D
  P GD PTS
SOUTH KOREA 3 +3 7
USA 3 -1 4
PORTUGAL 3 +2 3
POLAND 3 -4 3

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