JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The Confederations Cup has drawn near-record South African TV viewers and packed stadiums at the most popular games, but gaps in the stands has prompted organisers to give away thousands of tickets.
The tournament kicked off amid concerns about slow tickets sales, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter criticising the local organisers for failing to fill the stands for the opening match on June 14.
Sales were especially soft for matches played by teams not well known to local fans, with some unfolding before half empty stands -- most noticeable in the Spain-New Zealand game in Rustenburg, just two hours from Johannesburg.
The solution: give away the extra tickets.
Private companies and government agencies have purchased bulk batches to give away thousands of tickets.
Tickets had been specially priced to encourage locals to attend. At Wednesday's semi-final when the United States bested Spain 2-0, the cheapest seats were 140 rands (17 dollars).
But in a country where 43 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day, even that price is steep.
Moses Ntsizi, a janitor who earns 1,300 rands a month, lucked out by receiving a free ticket from his employer to see Wednesday's match in Bloemfontein.
"My dream has come true. I can see Spain playing," he said during the match. "I can see their method. They do not panic when they have the ball."
Ntsizi says he regularly watches the Bloemfontein Celtics, but those tickets cost only 20 rands.
Others in the crowd said they received free tickets from the city government, but many have turned to TV parks where big screens have been set up to allow the public to watch the games for free.
"I did not have the money to go to the stadium. But I enjoy the big screen," said 18-year-old orphan Diteboho Lefeta, who despite the cold weather came to a tent set up by the city to watch the game with others from his orphanage.
FIFA's ticketing system drew criticism ahead of the June 14-28 tournament for focusing on online sales in a country where Internet access remains a luxury.
Tickets could also be bought from a bank, but getting to the branches also posed a problem due to the lack of public transportation.
The policy was later relaxed and ticketing kiosks were rolled out in the four host cities.
Organisers say they are happy overall, and television audiences for games that South Africa played in were near record size, according to FIFA.
The Bafana Bafana match against New Zealand on June 17 attracted over six million viewers, not counting fans at the TV parks or other public spaces, according to FIFA.
That's lower than the 10 to 12 million Germans who watched their team play on TV when they hosted the last Confed Cup. But officials point out that Germany's population is larger and almost every home has a television. Not all South Africans even have electricity.
"The figures compare well considering difference in population," FIFA television broadcast director, Niklas Ericson told reporters.
Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the organising committee, said South Africa had done its best to publicise the games and make them accessible to the public.
"The organisation of the tournament cannot be judged by a couple of games which did not attract maximum crowds. Attendance has been very impressive at most of the games," said Mkhondo.
|We will fight for Conte – Courtois eager to avoid repeat of Mourinho debacle|
|Bayern Munich´s Muller out for three weeks with hamstring strain|
|It´s like hitting a chef with a knife and fork – Neymar blasts Marseille fans for missiles|
|We all deserved substituting after 30 minutes – Henderson slams Liverpool display|
|Mbappe named Golden Boy ahead of Dembele, Rashford|
|Neymar: Red card was harsh|
|Verratti: If I was Neymar, I would´ve lost it much earlier|
|Benzema isn´t overrated, insists Madrid boss Zidane|
|Cassano: I could´ve been playing on Mars like Messi and Neymar|
|Neymar red card unfair – Emery|
|Kane can become like Ronaldo and Messi, says Kobe Bryant|
|MLS Review: Portland top west, Earthquakes reach play-offs|
|Kane pleased with Spurs´ spectacle for NBA legend Kobe Bryant|
|Zidane backs ´player of a generation´ Ronaldo to rediscover goalscoring touch|
|Cavani calls on PSG to keep improving after Classique draw|
|Conte agrees with Guardiola and Mourinho over EFL Cup|
|Pochettino lauds Spurs for delivering in front of Maradona|
|Marcelo lauds Benzema as Europe´s best striker|
|Even the Golden State Warriors lose - Guardiola dismisses City ´Invincibles´ tag|
|I am different to other managers – Why Conte does not fear Chelsea axe|
|Character is key for Cahill as Chelsea chase consistency|
|Marseille 2 Paris Saint-Germain 2: Cavani rescues visitors after Neymar sees red|
|Real Madrid 3 Eibar 0: Super Asensio spares Ronaldo´s blushes|
|Allegri thanks Mandzukic for red card in Udinese rout|
|CAF Champions League Review: Al Ahly advance to final in dazzling style|
|Liverpool deserve to be ninth, says under-pressure Klopp|
|Wrong news - Wenger rubbishes Ozil exit rumours|
|Klopp slams Lovren: I would have stopped Kane getting the ball!|
|Udinese 2 Juventus 6: Khedira hat-trick inspires Bianconeri rout|
|We could have scored more - Two-goal Kane hails ´unbelievable´ Tottenham|
|Tottenham´s Kane one of the best - Pochettino|
|Atletico needed win at Celta, says Simeone|
|Tottenham set Premier League attendance record|
|Tottenham 4 Liverpool 1: Kane double increases pressure on Klopp|
|Montella questions VAR, promises ´united´ Milan will deliver|
|Celta Vigo 0 Atletico Madrid 1: Fit-again Gameiro ends visitors´ winless run|
|Wenger: Ozil back to his best for dominant Arsenal|
|Dolberg double sinks Feyenoord in De Klassieker|
|We´ve let him down – Keane backs Koeman after Arsenal capitulation|
|It´s not time to be crazy - Koeman calls for calm after Everton thumping|
|Mertesacker lauds compatriot Ozil after Everton thumping|
|AC Milan 0 Genoa 0: Bonucci sees red as 10-man Rossoneri fight for point|
|Guangzhou Evergrande claim seventh straight Chinese Super League crown|
|Everton 2 Arsenal 5: Koeman on the brink as hosts capitulate|
|Ipswich Town 0 Norwich City 1: Maddison gives Canaries more derby glory|
|Gary Neville thinks he is done as a football manager|
|Ibrahimovic has ´minimum´ five or six years left, claims Raiola|
|A-League Review: Vargas injury mars Newcastle Jets win, late winner gives Perth Glory first victory|
|Maybe the Premier League title race is already over - Klopp|
|Pochettino accuses Walker of ´alarming lack of respect´ over Tottenham exit|
|Pochettino: Mourinho put Dier in compromising position amid United interest|
|Sarri: Napoli care more about Serie A than Champions League|
|My goal was legal against Malaga, insists Barca´s Deulofeu|
|Valverde does ´not see any problem´ with Suarez´s sour substitution reaction|
|Ignore the noise, says under-fire Ozil|
|It´s like playing against aliens - Inter´s Spalletti hails Napoli players after draw|
|PSG duo Alves and Lucas to miss Marseille clash|
|CAF Champions League Review: Wydad Casablanca book final berth|
|Napoli 0 Inter 0: Handanovic heroics put an end to Partenopei´s winning streak|
|Barcelona 2 Malaga 0: Controversial win sees hosts extend LaLiga lead|
|Weidenfeller to end Dortmund stay at end of season|
|Pellegrino wants patience from Southampton saviour Boufal|
|Sad day for democracy - Guardiola gives latest take on Catalan crisis|
|Heynckes awaiting news on Muller injury|
|It was a penalty - Silva hits back at Burnley boss Dyche|
|Hamburg 0 Bayern Munich 1: Tolisso sends Heynckes´ men joint-top|
|Southampton 1 West Brom 0: Boufal stunner ends Saints´ winless run|
|Appleton still happy in caretaker role after Leicester sink Swansea|
|Guardiola ready to dine out on Aguero record|
|They should do a press conference to explain – Mourinho furious with Manchester United players|
|Bosz bemoans dropped points after Dortmund let two-goal lead slip|
|Montella calls for courage against Genoa|
|Championship Review: Wolves stay top as Terry scores for Villa|
|One of my proudest moments – Wagner revels in Manchester United win|
|Damage was done in the first half, admits Hughes|
|Conte will ´never´ fear the Chelsea sack|
|Herrera questions Manchester United´s ´passion´|
|Benitez impressed by Newcastle´s perseverance after narrow win|
|Monaco 2 Caen 0: Keita opens account as hosts get back on track|
|A bad team deserves punishment – Mourinho blasts Manchester United display|
|Zidane rejects tag of ´world´s best coach´|
|Stoke City 1 Bournemouth 2: Howe´s men pick up first away points|
|Manchester City 3 Burnley 0: Aguero levels record as Guardiola´s men stretch lead|
|Swansea City 1 Leicester City 2: Mahrez shines as Appleton enjoys winning start|
|Newcastle 1 Crystal Palace 0: Merino leaves it late to sink Eagles|
|Huddersfield Town 2 Manchester United 1: Mourinho´s men suffer first defeat as Lindelof error proves|
|Eintracht Frankfurt 2 Borussia Dortmund 2: Bosz´s men stunned by comeback|
|Immobile, Strakosha pen Lazio extensions|
|Conte hails Chelsea´s ´desire to fight´ for Watford comeback|
|Aguero becomes joint-top scorer in Manchester City history|
|Chelsea hero Batshuayi relieved to end ´difficult moment´ against Watford|
|Verratti admits he had doubts over PSG project|
|Bartomeu offers assurances over Barcelona´s LaLiga status|
|AC Milan will sell ´top players´ if they miss the Champions League|
|Chelsea 4 Watford 2: Batshuayi, Azpilicueta spare champions´ blushes|
|Darren Fletcher makes 100th consecutive Prermier League appearance|
|Carrasco´s attitude not a problem, says Simeone|
|Allegri happy to win ugly at Udinese|
|Barcelona approve €897million budget following record revenue in 2016-17|
|Lineker´s Benzema criticism embarrassing - Zidane hails Madrid striker as ´the best´|
|Bayern Munich announce record €640m turnover|
|A-League Review: Brillante completes comeback in thrilling Sydney derby|
|Bakayoko starts for Chelsea against Watford|
|Not many teams can stop us scoring – Smalling hits back after United criticism|
|Bakayoko: I´m not Chelsea´s new Matic|
|Manchester United fan Werner still dreams of Premier League move|
|Manchester City playing like Brazil, says Jesus|
|Mbappe, Dembele and Jesus named Golden Boy top three|
|Valverde: Barcelona couldn´t sign Mbappe|
|Kane: I´d love to spend whole career at Tottenham|
|Bolt wants to begin football career in 2018|
|What the f***? – Pochettino reveals Madrid selection questions|
|Mourinho plays down Conte spat|
|Liverpool must make Coutinho, Can want to stay – Klopp|
|Barcelona star Suarez granted rest by Uruguay|
|I don´t want to hide - Bilic takes responsibility for humbling West Ham defeat|