Outside the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, the men in khaki were collecting their dinner packets, but inside the complex, the sparse crowd had started ‘feasting’ after England’s 6-4 victory over South Africa.
The teams laid out a veritable feast of goals in the opening match on Tuesday, but with England playing true to form, it was a matter of time before the Proteas were walking out of the arena as losers.
Ten goals are not something one witnesses in the showpiece hockey event, but with both teams spending little currency on defence, the electronic scoreboard was kept ticking all the time.
Not that the South Africans didn’t roar. In fact, they were the first to open the account — and the last to close it.
A superb solo from Justin Reid-Ross down the baseline on the left set up Marvin Harper just a few yards from the goal-line in the 10th minute.
The forward slid on the turf, got his stick on the ball, and SA were rejoicing. England have shown a penchant for penalty-corner conversions in this World Cup, scoring two in the inaugural tie against Champions Trophy winners Australia in similar fashion.
Perhaps, they were also mindful of the fact that it was a historic match — this was the 500th World Cup tie — and didn’t want to play second fiddle to a team ranked many notches below them.
The first PC they earned turned out to be their launching pad. A scorching grounder from Richard Mantell five minutes after the opening goal brought England on level terms.
South Africa, who joined Kenya and Ghana as the only African teams to appear in the FIH World Cup, however kept belying their world ranking — lowly to say the least — with sudden bursts and counter-attacks and England kept responding with more power and punch.
England’s tactically superior and SA’s patchy play was evident when an error of judgment by the latter team’s captain, Austin Smith, in the midfield gave Rob Moore a golden chance to score for the lead. Moore slammed the ball from the top of the circle into the bottom left corner of the goal to once again signal his team’s authority.
A Norris Jones field goal restored parity in the 25th minute, but after the break, it was an all-out England attack that fetched them three goals from Ashley Jackson, Nick Catlin and Iain Mackay within a span of eight minutes — from 43rd to 51st.
At 5-2, and with nothing to lose, SA crowded the England circle, unnerving them and even scoring a couple of goals through Harper and Thornton McDade, but England held on.
England also kept their record clean against South Africa in the World Cup.
The previous time they met on the big stage was in 2006, when they won 3-1.