Algeria and Morocco open best in Baku
Algeria and Morocco were the top winners on the opening day of the Islamic Solidarity Games football tournament in Baku on Monday.
Four days prior to the official opening ceremony of the May 12-22 games, Algeria struck late to edge Turkey 2-1, while Morocco were too good for Saudi Arabia, winning 1-0.
In other games, Palestine and Oman played out an entertaining 2-2 draw, while hosts Azerbaijan had to settle late on for a 0-0 draw against Cameroon.
It took two late goals to help Algeria to edge fellow Group B favourites Turkey 2-1 in a thriller.
Onur Eris' first half strike put Turkey ahead, but it was Farid El Melali who saved the day for the north Africans with a goal worthy of Diego Maradona, dribbling past the Turkish defence before unleashing a well-placed shot with 13 minutes to go.
And it was the diminutive AC Paradou forward who was the hero of the day, earning a 94th minute penalty, which was converted by Ahmed Gagaa.
"Turkey are a very good side and they impressed me in their previous games. But they are used to playing on a natural pitch and here in Baku it was an artificial one", commented Algeria coach Ameur Chafik.
"We are used to playing on artificial pitches in Algeria and it helped us develop our game and football."
In the other Group B game, pre-match favourites Palestine took less than five minutes to take the lead through youngster Oday Dabbagh, but Oman striker Marwan Awlad Wadi levelled shortly after half-time.
Although Dabbagh put his team back into the lead with his second goal, Awlad Wadi also completed a brace to snatch a point late on.
Group A action saw defending champions Morocco edge out Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a disappointing encounter.
Morocco were by far the better side throughout and Zouheir El Moutaraji wasted a great opportunity early on, while Saudi keeper Habib Alwatyan made several second-half saves.
But substitute Chouaib El Maftoul curled in a deserved winner with 14 minutes to play.
It was the first action of the fourth edition of the Solidarity Games, with the only two previous winners of the football tournament going head-to-head.
"I am very grateful to my players for their wonderful performance," said Morocco coach Jalami Sellami.
"There was a slight problem with the artificial pitch which we struggled with while playing.
"It took us a long time to score the only goal. I reckon that they did experience the same challenges as we did though.
Later in the day, hosts Azerbaijan held Cameroon to a tense 0-0 draw.