Baku, May 12, AZERTAC
The 2005 silver medallists Saudi Arabia sealed top spot in Group A in the men's handball competition on Thursday at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku.
Turkey, another nation widely tipped to progress to the latter stages, later joined the Saudis in the last four after they rounded off an impressive Group B campaign with a routine victory over already-eliminated Jordan.
The Saudis went into their final group game on Thursday morning with a flawless record after victories against reigning champions Algeria and hosts Azerbaijan, and they put minnows Pakistan to the sword with the minimum of fuss at the Sarhadchi Arena.
Hassan Ghazwi was in clinical form for the favourites, striking three early goals as the Saudis came flying out of the blocks to establish an early lead.
Pakistan were hammered 47-24 in their last match by Algeria and Saudi Arabia threatened a similar outcome as they strolled into a 18-10 half-time lead.
The underdogs battled hard, forcing Saudi goalkeeper Nawaf Almutairi into 17 saves, but despite improving in the second-half, Pakistan went down 35-26 as a clinical Saudi Arabian side clinched their place in the semis, where they'll play Iraq.
They sealed second spot in Group B with a 25-22 victory over Morocco. Hussein Ibadi proved the sharp shooter for the Iraqis with 11 goals from just 14 attempts.
Algeria, who won the gold medal at the inaugural 2005 Solidarity Games in Saudi Arabia, were given a fright before eventually seeing off hosts Azerbaijan in a Group A decider in Thursday's late game.
The Algerians, who knew they had to win to progress, found themselves 9-5 down in the first-half.
But just as their gold-medal hopes looked to be disappearing, the north Africans hit eight goals without reply just before half-time as they turned the match on its head.
In an often bruising clash, Algeria powered clear after the break with Zohir Naim and Nidhal Djeghaba firing seven goals apiece as the favourites sealed an ultimately convincing 35-22 victory - and second place in Group A.
In Group B, Turkey grabbed top spot with a maximum three wins from three as they eased past a battling Jordan side.
Mahmoud Alhindawi's superb accuracy for Jordan - he scored with all of his eight attempts on goal - proved in vain as they were overrun by a Turkish side who were never behind in the game.
Onur Ersin top-scored with six goals for Turkey who came through 26-21 to seal first place in Group B and that mouthwatering semi-final against Algeria.
Meanwhile, there was some good news for the host nation in the women's competition as the Azeris sealed top spot in the group stage by beating closest rivals Turkey, 27-22.
Both sides had already guaranteed a top-two finish but Ekaterina Artamonova's six goals helped Azerbaijan gain a morale-boosting win ahead of their next encounter in the gold-medal match.
Cameroon finally registered their first win in the group, Paola Cyrielle Ebanga Baboga scored ten goals from 13 attempts in a rampant 41-25 win over Uzbekistan.
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