The Afghanis, making their first appearance at the tournament, arrived with plenty of pride and strong support from some 25,000 expatriates who now call the co-host countries of Australia and New Zealand home — and many others who want the fledgling team to do well.
At Dunedin, New Zealand, the side — with some players who first took up the game in Pakistan refugee camps while escaping their neighbouring war-torn country — pushed higher-ranked Sri Lanka to the limit before losing by four wickets.
Sri Lanka was in trouble when Afghanistan's bowlers took early wickets, but the more established team prevailed, scoring the winning runs with only 10 balls remaining. Asghar Stanikzai led Afghanistan with 54 of its 232 runs, while Mahela Jayawardene scored 100 runs to push Sri Lanka to 236-6 and victory.
It was Afghanistan's second loss in a row in the tournament while Sri Lanka evened its record at 1-1.
"We started very well for the first 30 overs but after that we didn't play well," said Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi, one of those who spent time in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. "It was a tough and tight game and the boys played very well."
Jayawardene said "all credit to Afghanistan, they batted very well in tough conditions and then bowled beautifully ... and put us under a lot of pressure."
Later, before more than 86,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, most of them cheering for India, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and India went on to score 307-7, with opener and eventual man of the match Shikhar Dhawan leading his side with 137 runs.
South Africa could only manage 177 in reply, losing for the first time at a World Cup to an Indian side which has been in Australia for more than three months. During that time, India completed a test and one-day international series without winning a match, so its second win in two matches, including over archrival Pakistan in its opener, was surprising.
Some of the biggest cheers on the night from the partisan Indian crowd came when the retired Sachin Tendulkar, attending his first World Cup match as a spectator, was shown on the big screen at the MCG. Tendulkar played six World Cup tournaments for India, top-scoring at the 1996 and 2003 editions and leading India to its win four years ago.
In the only match Monday, any realistic chance England has of making the quarterfinals will be on the line when it takes on Scotland at Christchurch, New Zealand.
England has lost its first two matches by big margins, to Australia by 111 runs and to New Zealand by eight wickets.
"There's always a huge rivalry between Scotland and England in any sporting event," Scotland captain Preston Mommsen said Sunday. "Hopefully that'll come out again tomorrow."
England opening batsman Ian Bell spoke for his team, subbing for captain Eoin Morgan, who is under pressure for his lack of form.
"It's really disappointing the fact of what we've done," Bell said. "But hopefully the next four games in this group we can put it right and start playing the sort of cricket we know we can."
On Sunday, West Indies officials said Darren Bravo had sustained a low-grade left hamstring tear and will miss at least the team's next match against Zimbabwe in Canberra on Tuesday. Bravo retired injured on 49 runs in the Caribbean side's 150-run win Saturday over Pakistan.