JOHANNESBURG // When tickets for the tournament went on sale last year, such was the belief in Fabio Capello's England team that many fans quickly signed up to attend Match 50: the last-16 tie that would feature the winners of England's Group C and the runners-up of Group D.
However, having stuttered through in second place, England were not involved in the match. And yet the evidence of early English expectation was there for all to see. As the United States, the winners of Group C, walked out on to the field at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg to face Ghana on Saturday, there were more St George's crosses draped over the stands than there were star spangled banners.
"I fully expected England to be playing, that's why I got a ticket," said Ian Gill, a Londoner who decided to make the trip west from Johannesburg, despite his beloved Three Lions not being involved. "I was going to sell it, yeah, but it's the World Cup isn't it? If you get the chance to get to a game - any game - you take it, don't you?" Not everybody shares Gill's admirable sentiment. While touting tickets outside stadiums is prohibited by law in South Africa, many keen fans - and many more not-so-keen - are flouting the rules in a bid to either make a quick buck, or rid themselves of tickets to a game they no longer have any patriotic interest in.
Tickets for tomorrow's quarter-final encounter between Uruguay and Ghana are being advertised on social networking sites by English and American fans who have either opted to follow their respective teams home or are looking for help paying for their World Cup excursions in the Rainbow Nation. However, profiting is proving more difficult than expected for some sellers. With some games, such as Tuesday's last-16 game between Paraguay and Japan, being played in front of several thousand empty seats, the demand for tickets is falling short of the black market's vast supply.
Maier, a German native who did not disclose his surname, said he purchased a Category 3 ticket for Tuesday's game outside Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria for 500 rand (Dh240) - less than half the ticket's 1,050 rand face value. Likewise, there are stories sweeping through the country of supporters waiting outside stadiums until 10 minutes before kick-off and picking up Category 1 tickets valued at 2,500 rand for as little as 400 rand.
"No," said one South African tout, who refused to be named, when asked whether he would sell a ticket for less than its original cost. "I can understand why some people would, yeah - would you rather have some money or no money? - but not from me. I'd rather keep the ticket and miss out on the money." He added it was more due to a fear of setting a precedent than allowing genuine fans cheap access to games.
Before the tournament started, Fifa announced new regulations that it hoped would help prevent such a situation from materialising. Each World Cup ticket has the name of the original buyer printed on it and, initially, identification was expected to be required to pass through the electronic turnstiles. However, three-weeks into the five-week tournament and no identification is required; tickets can change hands easily without detection from security outside the stadiums.
"For my first game I turned up with photocopies of my identification book and everything, but nobody checked anything," Nkoks Malebye, from Johannesburg, said. "It was never really feasible; how were they ever going to check 60,000 IDs outside a stadium and then start denying people entrance because they don't look like the photo they have in their passport?" As the games get more important, however, touts are facing a clampdown. A Nigerian man was sentenced to three years in jail recently after being caught unlawfully possessing 30 World Cup tickets, while a pair of Scandinavians representing the Norway-based website Euroteam, an online vendor offering non-Fifa affiliated tickets, were arrested with 70 tickets in their possesion.
Both are being held on rand15,000 bail. email@example.com