SPORTS


Azerbaijan set for Solidarity Games glory

Baku, May 22, AZERTAC

Azerbaijan are all but sure of topping the medals table at the Islamic Solidarity Games after a string of successes during Sunday's penultimate day's action in Baku.

After days of nip-and-tuck competition against Turkey for top spot, the hosts finally broke clear in decisive fashion.

Turkey opened well with men's and women's doubles gold in the tennis competition, but after that it was one-way traffic.

Four golds went to the hosts on the final day of the wrestling -- with the women in action.

The music of the "March of Azerbaijan" anthem resonated four times in a packed Heydar-Aliyev Arena as Elis Manolova (69kg), Mariya Stadnik (48kg), Leyla Gurbanova (53 kg), Tetiana Omelchenko (60kg) all triumphed.

Throughout the five-days of wrestling, Azerbaijan claimed a total of 23 wrestling medals, twelve of them gold.

Then there was double gold for the home teams in the 3x3 basketball finals.

Inspired by a number of foreign-born stars, the host nation saw off Qatar 13-9 in the men's final, having already brushed aside Mali 13-7 in the women's showpiece.

Gold medals also went Azerbaijan's way in the diving, zurkhaneh and finally to cap it all there was a famous win in the final of the football to close out the evening.

Mahir Madatov's first-half brace inspired Azerbaijan's 2-1 victory over Oman before a capacity crowd at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium.

The hosts took an early lead in Baku through Madatov, before the forward pounced again in the 27th minute to put his team in total control.

Oman caused a few jitters shortly after the interval when Salaah Al Yahyaei halved the deficit with a wonderful goal, but Azerbaijan held on for a famous win.

By the time the dust had settled on Sunday's action, Azerbaijan had broken clear of their neighbours Turkey with 75 golds to 68.

And with just 11 titles remaining to be decided on Monday before the closing ceremony, the die was cast as Azerbaijan are set to follow hosts Saudi Arabia (2005) and Indonesia (2013) as medal table toppers.

Turkey are already assured of the two gold medals up for grabs in the tennis singles finals to complete a clean sweep in that sport, but they will be unable to close the gap in the day's other finals in table-tennis (2) and the martial arts sport of wushu (7).

Iran are assured of third place with 38 golds ahead of Monday's action, and Uzbekistan will take fourth place with 15 golds already assured..

After that the focus will switch back to the Olympic Stadium in Baku, which will bring down the curtain on a competition started on May 8 with the first of the football preliminaries.

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