PRETORIA, South Africa - While overzealous fans were creating news, and injuries, in a suburb outside Johannesburg, the U.S. men's national team held an open practice, welcoming a small collection of fans as well as hundreds of local children.
On Sunday afternoon, before an exhibition match between Nigeria and North Korea, approximately 15 people were injured in a stampede outside of Makhulong Stadium, located in the Johannesburg suburb of Tembisa.
In the last few days, many teams have staged warm-up matches in preparation for the FIFA World Cup, which runs from Friday to July 11.
In a similar exhibition match on Saturday, also in a Johannesburg suburb, the U.S. team defeated Australia, 3-1, with all 7,000 fans entering and exiting the stadium without incident.
Because exhibition matches are not specifically affiliated with the World Cup, they are run by team personnel: Saturday's match was coordinated by Australia, Sunday's match by Nigeria.
By early Sunday evening, FIFA and the organizing committee (OC) of the World Cup had issued a statement:
"FIFA and the OC would like to first wish a prompt recovery to those who have been affected by these incidents. In addition, FIFA and the OC would like to reiterate that this friendly match has no relation whatsoever with the operational organization of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for which we remain faithfully confident. Contrary to some media reports, FIFA had nothing to do with the ticketing of this game."
According to the Associated Press, the cause of Sunday's incident was the distribution of free tickets at the gate to watch Nigeria play North Korea.
"What then occurred was large groups of people gathered outside the gates wanting to come in and wanting to get free tickets," police spokesman Lt. Col. Eugene Opperman told reporters outside the stadium. "Unfortunately in the process, the gates were opened and there was a stampede."
At the same time as that incident, the U.S. team was practicing inside Pilditch Stadium, 45 minutes north of Johannesburg in Pretoria.
The practice was, ostensibly, open to the public: U.S. coach Bob Bradley kept his players on the field for about an hour. For those hoping to glean some piece of insight from the session, the time was spent running, stretching, and executing a few basic drills.
U.S. forward Jozy Altidore, who missed Saturday's match with a sprained right ankle, participated in the laid-back session, afterward completing fitness runs without a limp.
The hour-long practice was witnessed by 350 children, all of whom were brought to the session through various organizations supported or facilitated by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Sitting in Pilditch's grandstands, the children spent the entire practice session blowing on vuvezelas, South African horns that sound much like a bleating animal.
"You drive around the country today and you see the incredible pride in hosting this Cup: People fly the flags, there's just a different spirit in the air," said the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Donald Gips. "As evidenced by the ever-constant vuvezelas."
The U.S. team took a few minutes after practice to sign autographs and mingle with the children.
"It's one of those days that make you realize how big you are to some people and how this makes a big difference in people's lives," said U.S. defender Jay Demerit. "For us, it's a really special time and we need to enjoy every second."