In football-mad South America, where love for the game transcends social class, watching stars like Lionel Messi play in the flesh has become inaccessible to most as ticket prices hit the roof.
During the September qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup, ardent fans across the continent grumbled over the cost of seeing their favourite team play.
High ticket prices keep the lower classes away from their idols.
"In my case it is impossible" to afford a ticket. "One can't enjoy it," said Pablo González, 49, a maintenance worker at a university in the Colombian town of Barranquilla, where his country will play Uruguay on Thursday.
The average ticket price for the match is US$102, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is US$270.
According to an AFP tally the tickets are the second highest in the region for the qualifiers.
In Argentina, victors of the 2022 World Cup, fans hoping to see Messi in action were left disappointed after the Argentine Football Association (AFA) set ticket prices for Thursday's match against Paraguay at an average of US$120.
The country is battling annual inflation of 120 percent and poverty levels of 40 percent.
AFA has introduced a ‘AFA ID’ subscription programme giving preferential access to match tickets. The "Gold" category costs US$14,000 for a three-year pass with a slew of benefits.
The minimum wage currently stands at around US$323 a month.
'Let them go for free'
Even Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni commented on how much it had cost him to buy tickets for his whole family.
"It cost me a lot, like everyone else. But who am I to set the price of tickets? If it was up to me, let people go for free," he told a press conference. "What can I do? I can't do anything about it."
Some prices are making "something popular like football exclusive," complained fan Candela Thompson to state news agency Télam.
In Brazil, prices have shot up over the past month, with tickets going from an average of US$63 dollars to US$97 for Thursday's match against Venezuela in central Cuiaba.
Prices normally vary according to the socio-economic capacity of the host city, but disinterest in the 'Seleção' is growing among Brazilians.
Chilean captain Arturo Vidal, considered a footballer of the people due to his humble background, has also complained.
"Tickets are expensive. I have already told the president [of the football association] to lower them a bit, we need a full stadium," Vidal said on social media before a match against Colombia in September.
According to the Chilean media, unlike in previous qualifiers, it took several days for tickets to sell out.
In Uruguay, football authorities admitted they had erred after high prices left thousands of seats empty for a match against Chile in September.
"We made a mistake," said the country's football association president Ignacio Alonso in remarks to local media after new coach Marcelo Bielsa debuted in a stadium that was far from full.
"The proof is that the stadium should have sold 40,000 tickets, and only sold about 31,500."
After the "rejection of the prices," he lowered ticket costs slightly. The cheapest spots for a match against Brazil on October 17 are now going for US$22 dollars, US$3 dollars less than the previous game.
by David Salazar, AFP