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World Cup sales kick off online

Online sale of tickets for the FIFA World Cup 2006 sparks a clamor among soccer fans.

Tickets for the FIFA World Cup 2006 went on sale online on Tuesday, sparking a clamor among soccer fans to enter the lottery for the in-demand tickets.

The move also raised fresh fears relating to crowd safety and led to criticism of one major sponsor.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the online sale is that fans applying for tickets will only be able to buy them if they have a MasterCard credit card. All other types of credit cards are invalid for the sale because of MasterCard's role as sponsor of the soccer tournament.

The tickets have gone on sale almost 18 months ahead of the kickoff in Germany, and so far only one competing team, the host, is known. Despite this, 812,000 tickets went on sale first thing Tuesday morning, meaning it will be almost impossible to guarantee segregation of different countries' fans at the matches.

However, in the past, tickets have been sold on a similar basis for events such as the European Championships, with little crowd trouble arising. The seats currently available are in mixed areas of the venues, while dedicated areas for specific groups of fans will be sold once groups have been confirmed.

One England fan who has bought tickets through the lottery system at major tournaments said that the random nature of the online ballot can actually make the tournaments far more enjoyable, as fans get to mix and watch players and teams they don't normally follow.

The early sale may be a reaction to falling attendances at soccer matches, as witnessed by the poor turnouts for a number of matches in Portugal for Euro 2004.

Despite empty seats at that soccer tournament, Horst Schmidt, senior vice president of the organizing committee for the Germany 2006 World Cup, said: "Sales via the Internet worked very well at Euro 2004. Ninety-six percent of the available tickets were sold this way. Anyone without their own Internet connection should enlist the help of friends and family and apply using this method, because it's the simplest way."

The first round of ticket sales will work as a lottery rather than being allocated on a "first come, first served" basis. Fans will find out whether they have been successful after the ballot on April 15.

A money-transfer option, which incurs a cost of about $55, also is available for purchasing tickets.

Will Sturgeon of reported from London.