Football fans in Sout Africa revel in build up to first World Cup match. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: World Cup fans were denied the chance to enjoy the opening game of the tournament, after technical problems that hit broadcaster Al Jazeera Sport left people staring at blank screens for long periods.

The signal from the South Africa vs Mexico game was lost several times in the first half of the match – with the outages stretching up to five minutes at a time.

However, the broadcaster said the disruption was as a result of sabotage. It claimed there were "deliberate attempts to block its signal" but did not elaborate on the cause.

Al Jazeera have bought the exclusive rights to show the World Cup in the region and fans have paid a minimum of Dh295 to get access to the matches.

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Before the technical problems, viewers had already been left bemused by the fact that the English language coverage switched to a French commentary during the game.

Al Jazeera Sport, which has exclusive transmission rights of the event in the Arab world, was deliberately jammed on the Nilesat and Arabsat satellites, said a statement issued late on Friday.

The channel intends to identify and pursue those responsible for this "act of piracy," managing director Nasser Bin Ghanem Al Kholeifi said, while also apologising to the fans.

The reaction to the constant outages was not positive. On Twitter, @Nasserak said: “I'd like to thank Jazeera for ruining my first world cup game! No signal and no customer support. Just brilliant.”

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Another tweeter @sunjayv added: “Aljazeera stinks. Watching live ITV feed online no lag no buffering. English commentary great picture.” while @rizalkhan added: "Al jazeera. You just messed up the experience to millions watching the biggest football show in the planet. Shame on you."

Dubai newspaper Emarat Al Yom ran a headline on Saturday saying "Al Jazeera Sport spoils the World Cup's joy."

In the Saudi capital, Riyadh, football fans unleashed a fury of invective against Al Jazeera after outages caused them to miss much of the first half of the South Africa-Mexico game on Friday.

Fans watching in a coffeeshop moaned as the broadcast went on and off constantly, and other fans turned to Twitter to express their ire.

"World Cup Fever is getting ruined by AL-JAZEERA's technical problem!" Twitter user "mjeddy" protested.

Others questioned the proposed bid by Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, to host the World Cup in 2022.

The signal returned for most of the second half of the opening game, but was patchy.