A helicopter kept strict vigil atop the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, sanitising the airspace. Dozens of cops monitored the periphery, keeping an eye on the sparse crowd while the Hero Honda FIH Hockey World Cup began under the shadow of stringent security.
However, from what we saw in the opening match, the cops should have thrown a cordon around the goalkeepers —Erasmus Pieterse of South Africa and Franscisco Cortes of Spain — who were under heavy attack straightaway.
Six goals were scored in all as Spain, expectedly, began with a victory, notching up a 4-2 verdict against a fighting South Africa in a Pool B encounter.
Spain is ranked 3rd in the FIH World Rankings while South Africa, relatively inexperienced, are 13th, but till the end of the first session, it looked like the World Cup would start with an upset. The Safs put up a fighting display after both the teams made a rather tentative start.
The teams were cautious and defensive in their approach initially, but did not lose any chance to counterattack and a couple of times, the forwards from both teams managed to sneak behind the last defender as they stepped up to assist the forwards.
However, the two goalkeepers were up to the task and did come up with some good saves. Spain’s Cortes managed to shut out the South Africans in the second session as the European powerhouse quelled any resistance after the breather. They tightened their midfield and defenders Sergi Enrique and Miquel Delas kept the South Africans at bay.
Julian Hykes (16th min) put South Africa ahead before Roc Oliva (17th) and David Alegre (19th) scored to give Spain a 2-1 lead. Just when it looked like Spain would increase the gap, Ian Haley (29th) pulled one back to bring South Africa level.
Spain established its superiority after the break and took control of the midfield. Though South Africa continued to fight and tried to thwart them, Spain had too much firepower for the African champions.
Rodrigo Graza (54th) pushed in a field goal and Pau Quemada (61st) scored cleanly through to the net with a rasping drag flick, the first penalty corner conversion of the tournament, to give Spain a full three points.