World Cup Security Tight for 'Group of Death' Games

The games Sunday in the World Cup's so-called "Group of Death" were billed as a showdown of soccer powers, but for organizers they were a test of security preparations.

Group F's matchups featured England and Argentina, two teams with some of the most violence-prone fans in the world.

Japanese police mobilized more than 10,000 officers who made last-minute security sweeps in the Tokyo suburb of Saitama, where England was playing Sweden, and the northeastern city of Ibaraki, where Argentina beat Nigeria 1-0.

That match went off without a hitch, however, and it was ticket problems more than hooliganism that plagued World Cup co-hosts Japan and South Korea.

JAWOC, Japan's organizing committee, said it only discovered just how many unsold tickets there were after seeing firsthand evidence -- thousands of empty seats at Saturday's games.

"19,000 empty seats," declared the banner headline in the mass-circulation Yomiuri newspaper, referring to attendance at Saturday's matches in Japan.

South Korean organizers have been rushing to sell unsold tickets at discounted prices, while Japanese officials have complained to FIFA, soccer's governing body, about missing tickets that were supposed to arrive weeks ago.

A computer mix-up was blamed for empty seats at Senegal's stunning win over defending champion France in the tournament opener at Seoul, while Irish fans complained of being unable to collect prepaid tickets for Ireland's 1-1 draw with Cameroon at Niigata, Japan.

Still, the estimated 9,000 empty seats at the Cameroon-Ireland game and 10,000 unfilled seats at Germany's 8-0 rout of Saudi Arabia at Sapporo Dome on the northernmost island of Hokkaido apparently came as a surprise for organizers.

FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said many tickets at Sapporo Dome weren't sold because they were for seats with obstructed views of the field. The dome's conversion from a baseball arena to a soccer field would have made it impossible for thousands of fans to see the action clearly, he said.

JAWOC blamed Britain's Byrom Inc. for failing to sell a large number of tickets destined for overseas fans, and expressed worries that disgruntled fans who show up to try to buy tickets on game days may riot, the national Mainichi newspaper said Sunday.

JAWOC officials had said they would not sell tickets on match days to avoid possible security problems with disgruntled fans.

But they have reversed that decision, saying FIFA may now sell tickets on game days at ticket centers and over the Internet, JAWOC spokeswoman Megumi Saito said.

Saito refused to comment on a Yomiuri newspaper report that said there were on average more than 1,000 unsold tickets for every match in Japan, saying it still wasn't clear how many there were.

So far, concerns about rampaging fans appear to have been overblown.

Despite long lines caused by tough security checks, Day Two of the World Cup passed without incident Saturday.

On Sunday, one more England fan with a history of hooliganism was turned back at the airport while trying to enter Japan.

A 39-year-old on a flight from Bangkok, Thailand was put on a plane back home after being detained at Tokyo's Narita Airport, the National Police Agency said. The deportation puts the total number of England fans from Britain who have been refused entry at 21.