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Party for poor Nigerians almost S.African tragedy
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 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 outside Johannesburg looking to enjoy Nigeria's friendly against North Korea, a warm-up for the tournament which starts on Friday.
But the 54-year-old, accompanied by his wife and daughter, was unable to 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 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," Reuben, who had a leg wound, told Reuters. "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 Nigerians fans to see their team since the so-called "accessible tickets" for the Group B matches against Argentina, South Korea and Greece have 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 Nigerian immigrants could get in free and the 10,000-capacity stadium was already almost full.
About 250,000 Nigerians live in South Africa, according to unofficial figures, although some estimates put the total above 400,000, many of them illegal immigrants in abject poverty.
Hours after the incident that left an injured policeman in serious condition, FIFA issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the organisation of Sunday's game.
(Writing by Rex Gowar in Pretoria; Editing by Nigel Hunt; to query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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