Azerbaijan seek medals blitz at Games

5 May 2017

Azerbaijan is almost ready for the Islamic Solidarity Games, with the first of the teams due to start arriving on Thursday.The football competition gets underway next Monday, with Azerbaijan facing Cameroon in their first Group A clash.

The other side of the draw sees Palestine make another appearance at an international tournament, after their surprise qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup, alongside Oman, Algeria and Turkey.

While strong teams with over 300 athletes have been named by the likes of Azerbaijan and Iran, some countries are struggling with funding, and on Wednesday Oman were forced to withdraw from the swimming and shooting events.

But in the previous two editions to have gone ahead, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia both topped the medals tables as the host nation, so the pressure is on Azerbaijan to deliver.

On Tuesday Ukrainian Iryna Kindzerska, who won under-78kg bronze at the 2013 European championships and narrowly missed out on a medal at the London 2012 Olympics, was added to the hosts' judo outfit.

The home country named a strong boxing squad on Wednesday, with former world amateur champions Javid Chalabiyev (bantamweight) and Magomedrasul Majidov (super heavyweight) included alongside 2012 Olympic heavyweight bronze medallist Teymur Mammadov, who carried the Azerbaijani flag at the Rio Games opening ceremony last summer.

The other combat sports will also be key to their hopes of following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, with many foreign-born athletes harbouring real medal ambitions in karate and wrestling, while the taekwondo team picked up eight medals at the Presidents Cup event in Athens last weekend.

The city itself also had a warm-up with the hosting of a rhythmic gymnastics World Cup event, and Marina Durunda, 19, will bid for a possible four Solidarity Games gold medals.

The Azerbaijanis are also hoping to take advantage of being hosts by encouraging the public to take up new sports, like cycling and tennis.

The 2017 Tour of Azerbaijan started on Wednesday, while there are high hopes for 17-year-old tennis player Rasul Gojayev.

"We expect to win medals. Of course, we need to work hard. We have just started, but I think that over the next year or two, Rasul Gojayev will be an excellent player - he has the skills to do it," national team head coach Boris Bevanda told news agency Vestnik Kavkaza.

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