Day 1 at the Judo Grand Prix: Sultanova to face Valiyeva in all-Azerbaijan final

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Sabina Abdullayeva in action against Cherine Abdellaoui

Azerbaijan Paralympic champion Afag Sultanova will face teammate and reigning European champion Sevda Valiyeva in the -57kg final of the IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Baku.

Sultanova won gold at the London 2012 Paralympics. She missed the 2016 Paralympics in Rio but hopes the Grand Prix will push her towards Tokyo in 2020. But she faces tough opposition from Valiyeva, who moved up a weight to take the European Championship gold medal.

Valiyeva had a convincing win over USA judoka Arndt Marissa on her way to the semi final, scoring waza-ari just ten seconds into the contest. She threw her opponent for a second waza-ari and ippon just seconds later.

Sultanova and Valiyeva are joined by Shahana Hajiyeva in reaching the finals of the Grand Prix, which has brought 240 judokas with sight impairments from 36 countries to Azerbaijan.

In the -48kg category, Hajiyeva beat Ukrain’s Yulia Halinska to earn a place in the final against 2016 Paralympic bronze medallist Li Linquing from China. Hajiyeva is in top form after winning a silver medal at last year’s World Championships in Portugal.

Azerbaijan duo Sabina Abdullayeva and Basti Safarova failed to make headway in their opening matches, but face each other for the -52kg bronze medal position after winning through their repechage fights. Abdullayeva, 23, was one of Azerbaijan’s medal hopes after winning silver at the last world and European championships, but she incurred penalties against her Algerian opponent Cherine Abdellaoui, costing her the match.

The first day of the grand prix saw men compete in four categories and women in three. The finals in these categories are to follow the official opening ceremony. The top-weight categories for men and women, including Azerbaijan’s Paralympic legend Ilham Zakiyev, compete on the day two.

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