Party for Nigerians almost turns ugly

REUBEN, like many Nigerians who live in South Africa, felt the impact on Sunday of being unable to afford a World Cup ticket when he was hurt trying to get into a game to watch his national team for free.

Thousands of Nigerians turned up at the Makhulong Stadium in Thembisa, Ekurhuleni, looking to enjoy Nigeria's friendly against North Korea, a warm-up for the tournament which starts on Friday.

But the 54-year-old Reuben, accompanied by his wife and daughter, could not see a single minute of Nigeria's 3-1 win.

Before reaching the stands he was trampled by the crowd trying to get in when they heard the match was for free.

Although Fifa says no other World Cup has had ticket availability like the 2010 finals in South Africa, the incident highlights the fact that the cost of tickets is an obstacle for the people of Africa, the planet's poorest continent.

"I was trying to get in and people started to crush me," said Reuben, who had a leg wound.

"There were a lot of people trying to get in and that's when it all got nasty."

Sunday's game was the only chance for many Nigerian fans to see their team play since the so-called "accessible tickets" for the Group B matches, in which Nigeria features against Argentina, South Korea and Greece, have been sold out.

"It was now or never. I can't pay hundreds of dollars to see the national team. I travelled many kilometres to get here. It's the most I can do," said Chadi, a 35-year-old Nigerian who managed to get in before the trouble started.

The crush, during the first half, occurred when people living in the vicinity of the stadium found out that admission was free and the 10000-capacity stadium was already almost full.

About 250000 Nigerians live in South Africa according to unofficial figures, although some estimates put the total above 400000, many of them illegal immigrants in abject poverty.

Hours after the incident that left an injured policeman in a serious condition, Fifa issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the organisation of Sunday's game. - Reuters