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The soccer World Cup opening matches kicked off in Japan on Saturday. Jubilant soccer fans and supporters from around the world flocked to the stadiums to watch the Ireland-Cameroon game in Niigata and the Germany-Saudi Arabia match later in the day in Sapporo.

The World Cup finals, which runs until June 30, is the first to be cohosted and the first to be held in Asia.

Speaking to the press before the Ireland-Cameroon clash, Cho Sang Ho, a South Korean World Cup organizing committee (KOWOC) executive said cohosting the World Cup finals has laid the foundation for a future similar approach in staging soccer’s showpiece event.

“We’ve had problems, but Korean and Japanese organizers have sorted them out through a series of consultations. I think relations between the two countries will deepen further after the World Cup,” he added.

At Big Swan Niigata Stadium, local volunteers and staff wearing yellow and green uniforms were busy with last-minute preparations for the first World Cup match in Japan.

“I’m very happy to be part of this event since we hardly ever have this kind of international event in Niigata,” said Takeshi Watanabe, 28, a university student who works at the stadium as a volunteer interpreter.

At JR Tokyo Station earlier in the day, supporters of the Ireland team clad in green uniforms occupied the platform of the Joetsu Shinkansen bound for Niigata.

“This is the first time for me to visit Japan. I already came to like Japanese people, who are very friendly,” said Conor Bennett, 35, at the station. He said Japanese appear to be rather calm, adding that they should get more excited about the games.

Meanwhile, discontent and tension spread among soccer fans at the Niigata and Sapporo stadiums over tickets.

British firm Byrom Inc., which was commissioned to print the tickets, tried to assure people who bought tickets to Saturday’s games in Japan that it would deliver them.

In Niigata, a 44-year-old Irishman who was celebrating his birthday Saturday said he was disappointed because he was unable to get his ticket for the 3:30 p.m. Ireland-Cameroon contest.

At a delivery center for tickets in a hotel in Sapporo, a 47-year-old German man said he had never seen such a ticket fiasco at the Olympics or past World Cup tournaments.

Shinji Okuda, 45, from Yokohama, said a ticket center employee merely issued an apology without an explanation.

A 38-year-old man from Saitama Prefecture was there with his 12-year-old son in a wheelchair. The man said Japan should have printed the tickets instead of entrusting the job to Byrom.

The tickets are of two kinds — those domestically sold with the involvement of the Japanese World Cup organizing committee, and those sold overseas directly by Byrom.

Also Saturday, tickets to the Ireland-Cameroon match were on sale at one point, which JAWOC officials say was a clear breach of agreement since there was to be no selling on match days.

Soccer’s governing body FIFA said the same day that there were about 100 duplicate tickets for the opening match in Seoul on Friday between France and Senegal, as well as around 3,500 vacant seats. Reasons for the problems were unclear.

Investigations on the matter are under way, and the findings will be announced shortly, it said.

16 Brits refused entry

Sixteen people who arrived in Japan from Britain since late April were refused entry and deported ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament that began Friday in Seoul, a British police official said.

Ron Hogg, assisting with soccer hooligan measures in the monthlong championships being cohosted by Japan and South Korea, said eight of the 16 were part of a group of 324 people who are subject to entry denial due to drug records or other reasons in line with Japanese laws.

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