HARARE, Zimbabwe — Twelve people died in a soccer stampede, set off when police fired tear gas at bottle-throwing fans during a World Cup qualifier Sunday between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Players from both teams choked and writhed on the field, covering their faces as tear gas spread through the stadium.
The 12 victims were dead on arrival, Davison Sadza, head of the Parirenyatwa hospital, told state radio. Four stampede victims were in critical condition and many others were injured, he said.
A doctor said most of the deaths were from internal injures consistent with being crushed.
Anxious relatives waiting for news gathered outside the hospital's emergency ward.
Fans hurled bottles and other items onto the field after South Africa scored its second goal in the 84th minute, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Police then fired tear gas at the crowd of more than 50,000. A stampede broke out as the fans scrambled to leave National Sports Stadium. A fire hydrant was torn from its mountings, spraying water over fleeing fans.
Stadium officials called the police response a "total overreaction," the South African Press Association reported.
The game was called off with 10 minutes left but South Africa's 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe was ruled official.
This marked the fourth time in four years there were crowd deaths at a World Cup qualifier.
Nine were crushed during a stampede in Zambia in 1996. At least 78 were killed in a stampede that October at Guatemala City, and at least three died this past April 23 in Liberia in an overcrowded stadium.
Among the players in Sunday's game were three who play for English clubs — Quinton Fortune and Eric Tinkler of South Africa and Peter Ndlovu of Zimbabwe.
The violence came three days after South Africa was denied in its bid to become the first African country to hold the World Cup. Germany was awarded the 2006 tournament in a 12-11 vote by soccer's ruling body.
South Africa made it to the first round of the 1998 World Cup and placed third in this year's African Nations Cup. Zimbabwe has never qualified for the World Cup and did not qualify for this year's African Nations Cup.