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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

South Africa's road to the finals

South Africa's World Cup campaign got off to a tragic start when 13 people died in a stampede during their qualifier against Zimbabwe in Harare.

Rioting broke out in the National Sports stadium in the Zimbabwean capital as Bafana Bafana were leading their neighbours 2-0 in a Group E match.

The game was abandoned with seven minutes left but Fifa ruled let the score stand, giving South Africa a perfect start to their World Cup campaign.

The South Africans never looked back and made sure of their place in Japan and Korea with a 1-1 draw in Burkina Faso in their penultimate fixture.

Good fortune

But Bafana Bafana will be the first to admit that they had the good fortune of being paired with mediocre opposition.

They then rubbed their hands with glee as they saw their biggest threat, Guinea, thrown out of the competition.

Guinea were expelled in March after defying FIFA on the firing of their football federation and the imposition of another administration by the government.

Guinea, who had seven points from their first three matches, were threatening to tear South Africa's script apart but the two countries never met.

Guinea's banishment left South Africa to battle with less than potent opposition in the form of Burkina Faso, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Club careers

Coached by the Portuguese trainer, Carlos Queiroz, they finished their six-match programme unbeaten, winning five and drawing the other.

Their position at the top of the group was never in danger, even after Zimbabwe rallied to provide them with a little competition just before May.

South Africa had their own problems to contend with, as captain Lucas Radebe and fellow defender Mark Fish opted out of key matches.

They took this step in order to concentrate on their respective club careers in the English Premiership.

The club-versus-country row now poses a serious problem for coach Queiroz, as other European-based players have indicated that they only wish to be called up for important matches.

Those not keen to fly back home repeatedly for international games include goalkeeper Hans Vonk, Bradley Carnell of VfB Stuttgart and English-based striker Shaun Bartlett.

Queiroz and the South African Football Association have tried to accommodate their players' wishes as much as possible but a crunch is sure to come next year with the African Nations Cup finals in Mali.

And there is still a big question mark over which players will be selected to go to Japan and Korea if many rule themselves out of taking part in Mali.

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