Fans stampede at World Cup tune-up

Thousands of football fans stampeded outside a stadium Sunday before a World Cup warmup match between Nigeria and North Korea, leaving 15 people injured, including one policeman who was seriously hurt.

TEMBISA, South Africa — Thousands of football fans stampeded outside a stadium Sunday before a World Cup warmup match between Nigeria and North Korea, leaving 15 people injured, including one policeman who was seriously hurt.

Several fans could be seen falling under the rush of people, many wearing Nigeria jerseys. The Makhulong Stadium in the Johannesburg suburb seats about 12,000 fans.

“At this moment we have 14 civilians that were slightly injured in the process, one policeman seriously injured,” police spokesman Lt. Col. Eugene Opperman said outside the stadium.

Opperman said tickets for the match were given out for free outside the stadium.

“What then occurred was large groups of people gathered outside the gates wanting to come in and wanting to get free tickets. Unfortunately in the process, the gates were opened and there was a stampede,” Opperman said.

Opperman said the injured were taken to a hospital and were being looked after.

FIFA said it had nothing to do with the ticketing.

“FIFA and the OC (local organizing committee) would like to reiterate that this friendly match has no relation whatsoever with the operational organization of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for which we remain fully confident,” FIFA said in a statement.

Police spokesman Col. Hangwani Mulaudzi said Nigeria, as the host team, was responsible for security. But once trouble broke out, Mulaudzi said, police stepped in to control the situation.

“This is a friendly game and I think the fans were excited to come and see their heroes who will be participating in the World Cup,” Mulaudzi said.

The incident happened only five days before the start of the World Cup, the first to be held in Africa.

One fan, wearing a South Africa rugby jersey and bleeding from the head, said the rampaging crowd overpowered him.

“I fell down and people just fell over me,” Japhta Mombelo said. “That crowd is overpowering.”

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.

“When we were coming in they were just stepping on us,” said Princess Mbali, who was wearing a green South Africa shirt. “I thought I was dying. I was at the bottom.”

Shortly after the second rush, the gates were closed again and much of the crowd dissipated.

The injured policeman was bloodied in the crush and later taken away on a stretcher. Other fans who appeared to be lightly injured walked away from the scene as it calmed down.

The Tembisa Stadium is nothing like those built or renovated for the World Cup. It has concrete terraces and is surrounded by a fence with gates and no turnstiles.

The Nigeria and North Korean football teams were lining up for the national anthems when the second surge happened. They had no idea what was going on outside.

The match was suspended for about 10 minutes shortly after the second half began, but it restarted with Nigeria leading 1-0. The Nigerians went on to win the match 3-1.

Such incidents frequently happen in football.

Last year, FIFA fined Ivory Coast’s football federation US$46,800 after 22 people died in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying match.