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World Cup finalists South Africa in must win game

© Reuters 2002

By Mark Gleeson

BAMAKO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - World Cup finalists South Africa face the embarrassing threat of early elimination from the African Nations Cup if they do not beat Morocco on Wednesday.

Two successive goalless draws have left South Africa, who have been dogged by allegations of a racial division among their players, in danger of not qualifying for the last eight.

South African officials, who angrily denied domestic news reports at the weekend that there was a split among black players and those of mixed race in the squad, did admit spirits were low after a poor start to the tournament. South Africa's only previous African Nations Cup performances have seen the team win, finish runners-up and take third place in the last three successive tournaments.

Coach Carlos Queiroz insisted on taking a full-strength squad to Mali despite the reluctance of several players to leave their European clubs.

However even with the European-based players Bafana Bafana have been guilty of squandering numerous chances in their previous matches and Queiroz is expected to make changes to his midfield for the game in Segou. Captain Shaun Bartlett, who plays for Charlton in England's premier league, has suffered a calf injury and remains doubtful for Wednesday's match.

Meanwhile four time winners Ghana, who have also been dogged by off-field controversy, must also win on Wednesday to book their quarter-final berth from group B.

They have also drawn twice and meet bottom-placed Burkina Faso in the northern town of Mopti. Ghana were rocked when coach Fred Osam Duodu expelled defender Sammy Kuffour, alleging he was a "disruptive influence".

The Bayern Munich defender was sent home after Ghana's opening match on January 21 but the team bounced back to hold South Africa to a draw in Segou last Thursday.

Captain Emmanuel Duah said the team were keen to continue in a similar vein against Burkina Faso. "We have the makings of an exciting side now and we think we can do really well in this tournament," he told Reuters.

Morocco won 2-1 against Burkina Faso on Saturday in the only group B game to have delivered goals in the tournament so far but have also failed to impress.

Injury to fullback Gharib Amzine will give Dutch-based defender Faouzi El Brazi a starting berth while striker Abdeljilil Hadda is still struggling to be fit after missing the Burkina Faso match. A draw would be enough to ensure Morocco's qualification for the quarter-finals where they will play either Nigeria or Mali.

The group B winner will meet Mali in Kayes on February 3 while the runner-up faces Nigeria in Bamako on the same day.

Reports provided by

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