WORLD CUP fever hit South Africa hard yesterday with a stampede at one pre-tournament friendly leaving several injured, while 20,000 brought the tiny village of Magaliesburg to a standstill for the arrival of Portugal.
The more serious incident occurred before the warm-up game between Nigeria and North Korea, which left many fans trampled underfoot at the Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, which houses around 10,000 fans.
In the scenic Magaliesburg mountains, the rush to see Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portugal side arrive in South Africa saw riot police and mounted officers move in to clear access.
Both situations derive from huge migrant populations – South Africa is home to a huge Nigerian population since democracy dawned in 1994, while the nation has long been home to a significant population of Portuguese descent.
The Oliver Tambo International airport near Johannesburg was mobbed by nearly 5,000 fans who threatened to overwhelm security as Portugal landed yesterday morning. They lined the long road to the team’s Magaliesburg base at Valley Lodge and their training pitch at Bekker school in a solid red tide.
Only 2,000 tickets to Portugal’s first training session were handed out – mostly to locals - while 20,000 attempted to gain access. Though local restaurants and bars may have achieved record profits, there were brief flare-ups between fans and security as the session – described as “open to the public” in the local press – drew unprecedented crowds.
Traffic jams stretched for miles towards both Johannesburg and Pretoria, where large Portuguese-South African communities have developed, augmented by the arrival of countrymen from Angola and Mocambique.
Though I did my best to bond with the local force (see picture) one fan screamed at the riot police: “You are showing no respect for the Portuguese people, we deserve to see our heroes. We’ve been on the road two hours. The people with tickets don’t even have Portugal shirts.”
While scuffles broke out, security and riot police attempted to defuse tension by allowing some school parties and young children in ticket-less to see their side train at 4.30pm. Most were happy simply to see the team bus drive past.
Portugal’s three group games are all sold out – their clash against Brazil in Durban on June 25 was the first game of this World Cup to run out of tickets.
In Tembisa, Japtha Mombelo, bleeding from the head after the crush, said: "I fell down and people just fell over me. The crowd was overpowering. The police have told me to stay around and they will organise an ambulance but I am still waiting."
The first rush came when the gates opened to allow fans into the stadium. Police soon closed the gates, but when they were reopened, a second rush occurred, with more people falling and being run over.
Princess Mbali, wearing a South African shirt, said: “They were just stepping on us. I thought I was dying. I was at the bottom."
Sixteen were taken to hospital as Nigeria carved out a 3-1 win.
I was told in Polokwane by a high-ranking official last week that Nigeria have been slightly tardy in their organising of friendlies, which is why all 8,000 tickets for today's game were issued free, causing the crush for entry.
The planning and venue for England's friendly at Maruleng on Monday night has been far more thorough. It's a brand new, 20,000-capacity stadium, though FA sources are saying they will "up security" for the clash with local club Platinum Stars. I'm on talkSPORT in England at 7.30am talking about today's goings-on and have just recorded a piece for them.
Video from Magaliesburg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nIz0GAAlzc