U.S.-South Korea At World Cup

Two South Korean soccer fans bangs their heads against police shields as a protest about not being able to buy tickets for the South Korea versus USA, Group D, 2002 World Cup soccer match at the Daegu World Cup Stadium in Daegu, South Korea, Monday June 10, 2002.
Some 7,000 tickets for the United States-South Korea match went on sale on Monday just hours before the game kicked off at 3:30 p.m., South Korean World Cup organizers (KOWOC) said on Monday.

Thousands of football fans gathered near Taegu stadium at the weekend hoping to snap up last-minute tickets for the group D showdown.

Nearly half of the tickets - put back on sale after the spectacle of conspicuously empty seats on television during the first week threatened to tarnish Asia's first World Cup - offered a restricted view of the pitch.

But KOWOC decided to make an exception to their rules and sell the seats - badly positioned behind television cameras or advertising boards - at a reduced rate.

"FIFA has handed over more than 7,000 tickets to KOWOC, and KOWOC will sell them on the day of the match at Taegu's box office first come, first served," KOWOC said in a statement.

KOWOC spokesman Chun Young-il told a news conference in the capital Seoul that two types of seats were on sale.

"Some 3,600 are normal seats and 3,400 are seats where visibility is hindered," he said.

The 7,000 tickets were due to be sold on the international market but were returned unsold. World governing body FIFA said it did not usually put the seats with a poor view on sale.

"This is a one-off for the time being," FIFA communications director Keith Cooper said in Seoul.

Fighter jets and military helicopters flew low through the Taegu mountains in a post-September 11 show of security that included armed guards assigned to protect the U.S. team.

Hordes of fans, mostly clad in T-shirts in South Korean's red team color, hid from the sun inside tents and chanted songs as they waited for the stadium gates to open ahead of the match.

"Everybody is very excited about the game. People are hanging around the stadium, taking a lot of pictures and enjoying the atmosphere," said one of the U.S. supporters, computer programmer Eric Berker from Pennsylvania.

Both teams won their opening games and a win will put qualification in sight for the winner.

About 7,000 unsold tickets for the Poland-Portugal match, scheduled for 8:30 p.m., were also up for grabs at the South Korean host city of Chonju.

To try to resolve problems with ticket distribution, FIFA and KOWOC agreed last week FIFA would sell "high-demand" tickets over the Internet and all remaining last-minute tickets would be sold by KOWOC at box offices.

Problems with ticket deliveries and online ticket sales, as well as empty stadium seats in the first week of the month-long event, prompted co-hosts Japan and South Korea to voice fears the image of Asia's first World Cup had been damaged.

The World Cup final is scheduled to be played in Yokohama in Japan on June 30.

By Jason Neely