Thousands of South Africans queued outside World Cup ticketing centres on Thursday for the first direct sales ahead of June kick-off with police having to diffuse frustrations over delays.

Eleven ticketing outlets opened at 0700 GMT Thrusday in all nine host cities with system problems and the death of a pensioner reported as football loving crowds flocked to snap up half a million tickets still available.

In Cape Town, a pensioner collapsed and died early Thursday before the centre opened, and police used pepper spray on some queuing fans in Pretoria where frustrations flared over the delays.

"There were individuals that did not behave themselves. They were pushing the policemen around," said police spokeswoman Colette Weilbach.

Tickets were available at all 64 World Cup matches after FIFA made an additional 300 category three tickets available for the final, previously listed as sold-out, at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on July 11.

Police in Durban and Polokwane had to calm down dozens of fans who were angered by the slow transaction process, as the FIFA system kept on crashing.

According to media reports, some ticketing centres in Sandton, Pretoria and Cape Town have extended their trading hours to cope with the massive demand," a FIFA

Fifa officials at the Sandton ticketing centre said they would close at 9pm (1900GMT).

"We experienced some delays in issuing tickets at the outset," said James Byrom of MATCH, FIFA's ticketing service provider, in a statement.

"We are confident it will continue to improve throughout the day."

A total of 1,610 tickets were sold to 310 customers nationally at ticketing centres within the first hour. A further 2,166 were sold to 470 fans through a local bank where tickets are available at 600 branches.

In Cape Town, 23-year-old Mahesh Singh, 23, was the first person in Cape Town to buy tickets after arriving at 1400GMT on Wednesday.

"I wanted a level of every single game. To get something like that is amazing," he said after spending more than 17,000 rands (2,300 dollars, 1,700 euros) for his family's tickets, and estimating a final tally of 25,000 to 30,000 rands.

In February, FIFA upped the number of cheapest tickets of 140 rands to get more South Africans into stadiums, after criticism over drawn-out online ticket application processes with the internet out of reach for most locals.

By last week, a total of 2.2 million of nearly three million tickets had been sold, with 85 percent of 240,000 sold in the last push going to South Africans.

Jevon Kannemeyer, who got to the Cape Town ticket centre at 1645 GMT on Wednesday, said he had not previously applied for tickets online or at branches of a local bank, saying it was a long process that did not guarantee matches.

"I'm very excited because I'm a heavy soccer fanatic," he told AFP as he waited near the front of the queue.

"You can just pay over the counter with your cash and you are guaranteed to get the tickets right now."

Some fans in Cape Town feared that desired matches would sell out at other centres.

"Hopefully, it's slow everywhere else," said 26-year-old Brad Conlin, taking a seat on the floor while waiting his turn at number 44, an hour after the centre opened.

"We've been here since last night, half past ten," said Richard Mahwayo, 57, who held a hand-written cardboard sign saying: "Warning!!! Stay clear, we've got the 'fever'. World Cup Fever."

Brett Solomon, 26, paid a colleague 300 rands to stand in the queue from 1445 GMT on Wednesday and said he could not wait to see football's top stars which he watched on television.

"You long to be part of it. This is the greatest opportunity to get there on our own soil," he said.

The tickets are also available on FIFA's website from 1600 GMT and at 18 outlets of a national South African supermarket from Monday.

 

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