Fans cry foul after last-minute ticket dash

JOHANNESBURG, June 11 (Reuters) - Dedicated South African fans braved freezing weather to queue overnight in a last-minute scramble to get tickets for Friday's opening match in the first World Cup finals to be held on African soil.

The queue outside the FIFA ticket office in the upmarket Sandton suburb of Johannesburg stretched down the road on Friday morning of those hoping to grab a ticket to support the team they affectionately call Bafana Bafana (The Boys) in their first match against Mexico.

"I'm calling FIFA every 20 minutes and they keep telling me they are going to release more tickets soon," said Kevin Diamant, a 23-year-old financial advisor.

But Diamant and others left disappointed and confused as match tickets, which appeared to be available on the website, were nowhere to be found in the sales offices.

"There were people here who came from 0100 a.m. to wait to get tickets for today's match - there were many, many people here," said security guard Sizwe Mike. "But they didn't find any."

FIFA had earlier came under fire for an online sales ticketing system which largely excluded poorer South Africans from reserving seats. It later introduced the cash ticket offices.

"We couldn't get tickets for a South African game," said Eli Motau, 30. "They screwed us."

Last week FIFA said it was releasing premier tickets which had not been snapped up by companies feeling the pinch of the financial crisis and cheaper view-obstructed tickets, which it said brought the total number of tickets to more than 3 million for the month-long tournament.

FIFA said tickets were 97 percent sold for the 64 matches.


But for the first time since the ticket offices opened, queues evaporated on Friday afternoon as crowds rushed off, battling standstill traffic, to watch the opening ceremony and match begin in the stadium or at one of the big screens in fans' zones throughout the city.

"If you're hoping to pick up a ticket, you should come now - this is the first time since we opened it's quiet," said security guard Mike.

Some fans were clever. "We planned this strategically," said Adkeesh Ramnath. "We figured everyone would be watching the ceremony and the match so decided to come now."

But staff said the crowds would return once South Africans returned from the opening match. "Timing is everything," said one volunteer.