SAO PAULO Avid World Cup sticker collectors in Rio de Janeiro were given a shock this week when a van carrying hundreds of thousands of Panini stickers was stolen during a delivery.
Thieves made off with some 300,000 of the adhesive stickers featuring players who will appear in the forthcoming World Cup finals in Brazil which start in June, according to local press reports on Thursday.
The glossy stickers, loved the world over by football fans since the first World Cup edition in 1970, were being taken to newsagents in the city when the delivery came unstuck.
However, Panini were quick to ward off panic among fans hoping to complete the collection of all 640 stickers, insisting supplies of Cristiano Ronaldos, Lionel Messis and Neymars were not running low.
"Panini can state that the city of Rio de Janeiro is well supplied and there is no shortage of official Panini products for sale," the company said in a statement.
Panini gave no details of the theft and a spokesperson would not swap any additional information when asked.
The stickers are hugely popular in Brazil with collectors young and old organising mass exchanges both online and at informal get-togethers. Some eight million of the albums are expected to be sold or distributed in Brazil, Panini said.
It would not be the first time Panini stickers were stolen. In 2010, before the South Africa World Cup, thieves broke into adistribution centre in Sao Paulo and made off with 135,000 packets of stickers. They were later found.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Martyn Herman)