Defending champs Algeria surprised by Saudi Arabia

9 May 2017
Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Alabbas jumps to shoot the ball during the men's handball match between Saudi Arabia and Algeria

Title holders Algeria kicked off their campaign with a crushing 26-13 defeat against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, as the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games handball tournament got underway in Baku.

With the handball competition not being held since 2005, the Fennecs have been holding onto their crown for 12 years now, but their clumsiness in front of goal has already shown that the title might be up for grabs.

Saudi Arabia made the best of their chances and raced to an early 3-0 lead with six minutes on the clock and they were even 6-1 up two minutes later.

The experienced Mohammad Alsalem kept Algeria at bay and, at the other end of the pitch, lightning fast counter-attacks did the rest with six players scoring at least three goals.

The Saudis, who were 13-7 at half-time, never looked in danger of defeat against the young north Africans, who had only one player, center back Moustafa Hadj Sadok (38), over 21.

Saudi Arabia, silver medallists in 2005, issued a strong message at the Sarhadchi Olympic Sports Centre as they were able to count on Alsalem and his ten saves at the break to make the difference.

But the hero of the day was Mojtaba Al Salem. The 23-year-old centre back scored four goals and provided several assists to lift the Kingdom ahead of their opponents.

Alongside the spectacular right wing Abdulazez Saeed, five goals in the final 30 minutes, he provided the spark needed by Saudi Arabia to open with a well-deserved victory.

Zohir Naim was the star turn for a disappointing Algeria, scoring six goals to limit the damage.

Algeria take on Pakistan on Wednesday while Saudi Arabia face hosts Azerbaijan to make it back-to-back victories.

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