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Problems Plague Cup Openers in Northern Nigeria

Problems Plague Cup Openers in Northern Nigeria

Problems Plague Cup Openers in Northern Nigeria

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The opening of the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria was marred by organizational and logistical problems. Monday night brought a slew of new challenges as the final two venues opened their schedules.

A number of near riots broke out in the stands, involving fans confused about lack of access to their usual places in the stadium, which had been roped off for FIFA VIPs.

But the real trouble came outside the stadium, where police were forced to beat back throngs of football supporters, many of whom had bought tickets for the afternoon's match between Malawi and the United Arab Emirates.

Muhammed El-Hatou was among the fans attempting to get in.

"All of us here, we have paid our ticket, and none of the gates are open for us. We fought for the fifth gate, and he said, no, 'we shall come here.' That is why we are here, and we are here soon before the game took off, it is half-time. They wouldn't allow us in. If they will allow them we will cross the gate. There are many ways to kill a rat," he said.

A local organizing committee official said the spectators were denied access to the stadium when they keys to the gates of the low-priced bleacher section could not be found. Fans responded by growing irritated, before overwhelming the scant police force on hand, and attempting to enter the stadium through a ticketing window.

Local organizing committee member Stephen Niura said the situation was being brought under control.

"They did not open the gates, and they have a lot of crowds. It is like management forgets to have enough exits for the people. So it has become a problem, but we are solving it," he said.

When the gates were eventually opened, the stadium filled for the second match of the day. But just when it appeared the venue was in the clear, things went awry on the field as the United States was taking on Spain in the nightcap. During the pivotal second half, a bank of lights on the south end of the stadium suddenly shut off, twice within a period of a few minutes, disrupting play for several minutes.

On both occasions the floodlights were eventually turned back on, and play resumed.

Despite the problems Spanish coach Gines Melendez was impressed by the atmosphere. He said the crowd was the best he had seen in his long experience as a youth football trainer, including six Under-17 World Cups.

The Under-17 World Cup began Saturday, and is taking place in eight venues across Nigeria. Play resumes in Kano on Thursday.