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A fan shows off his World Cup tickets after purchasing them at the Maponya Mall in Soweto, South Africa. ((Themba Hadebe/Associated Press))

If it wasn't clear before how seriously South Africans are taking the World Cup, it is now.

Amid scenes of chaos, confusion and long lineups, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, made tickets available over the counter last week for the first time. It's the last phase of ticket sales, in which 500,000 tickets were released.

Fans had been camping out overnight, some waiting as long as 24 hours. Scuffles broke out in queues and a pensioner died after collapsing in a crowded lineup of more than 500 people, outside Cape Town.

More than half of the 64 matches in South Africa's nine host cities have been sold out. The tournament runs from June 11 to July 11.

Police in riot gear

At one ticket centre in Pretoria, soccer fans began pressing against the doors of the ticketing office and police showed up in riot gear.

"I was pepper-sprayed twice," said one frustrated fan, who blames organizers for not providing enough facilities to cope with the huge number of ticket-buyers. 

"This is total disorganization by FIFA. People were trying to storm the place."

One columnist wrote that the decision to wait to open over-the-counter sales to the public for the first time, unleashing half a million tickets in one go, was "a recipe for disaster."

The first four phases of ticket sales went online. Many complained this denied low-income fans a chance to buy tickets until the best seats were gone. In Cape Town and Durban, all matches have been sold out.

But now many complain the over-the-counter sales centres are based mainly in South Africa's cities, making it difficult for fans in rural areas — almost half the country's population — to buy tickets.

"If we want to buy tickets we have to travel to Johannesburg," said Papi Mosia, who lives in Vereeniging, a two-hour drive away. "I wanted to go to the World Cup, but the way they've done it, it would cost me a lot. I was surprised, because I'm a South African and I can't buy the tickets. I felt I was isolated."

For this World Cup, FIFA created a new category of tickets for the first time.

The cheapest cost about $19 US. But that's pricey for fans who are accustomed to paying $3 or $4 to see a local match.

The country's unemployment rate stands at around 27 per cent and the average monthly income is estimated at about $400. The country's most loyal football supporters are poorer still.

So for the millions of South Africans living outside major city centres, paying another $10 for transportation makes it a no-go.

"You know it's a disaster, in the Vaal (more than two hours from Johannesburg), most of the people here don't have tickets," said Morolong.

"I bought track suits, T-shirts, blankets, I want to be there. I want to be part of the history. I don't want to watch [it on] TV or big screen. We must be there, support the boys! If we're not there it means we don't support our boys."

World Cup fever building

Until a few days ago, it may have been hard to tell whether World Cup fever was a reality beyond media campaigns and competitions for tickets and T-shirts.

Massive soccer balls are appended to prominent buildings. Billboards line the major roads, with images of screaming fans, and the words: "Make sure you can say 'I was there.'"

Many blame FIFA for the fact they won't be able to say that. But in an email, the FIFA media team wrote that, since Monday, additional sales points have opened at banks and supermarkets.

"This way we reach out also in rural areas," FIFA stated.

That doesn't satisfy Morolong, who would have to travel to a mall to reach the nearest ticket centre.

"It costs a lot of money to go there. I don't know what you do. They should have somewhere to buy tickets near here," he said.

World Cup local organizing committee spokesman Rich Mkhondo said officials are nevertheless pleased with overall ticket sales. Of the 2.9 million tickets available, about 2.3 million have been sold.

About 120,000 tickets have been sold to fans in the U.S., some 70,000 to U.K. fans, and 16,000 to Canadians.

Foreign ticket sales are well below the 450,000 originally forecast. Some now put that figure at about 300,000, and attribute the paltry turnout to the lasting effects of the recent economic downturn, and to the expense of travelling to destinations like South Africa during peak period.