Host South Korea and Tunisia played to a draw to open an international men's handball competition in Seoul on Sunday.
The teams ended up deadlocked at 28-28 in the first match of the 12th Seoul Cup Handball at SK Olympic Handball Gymnasium in the nation's capital.
Iran is the other nation in the tournament. Tunisia and Iran will square off Monday at the same venue. The finale on Tuesday will pit South Korea against Iran. The top team after the round-robin play will be declared the champion.
South Korea led 12-10 at halftime, and opened a 27-24 lead with about five minutes remaining on a goal by Jeong Yi-kyeong.
Tunisia fought back with three unanswered goals, with Chafik Boukadida scoring the equalizer.
Handball players from South Korea (in white) and Tunisia (in red) pose for photos before the start of their game at the 12th Seoul Cup Handball competition at SK Olympic Handball Gymnasium in Seoul on Aug. 13, 2017. (Yonhap)
Oussama Jaziri then put Tunisia up 28-27 with about two minutes to go. Then at the other end, Kim Dong-cheol leveled the score for South Korea. Neither team scored down the stretch.
Cho Tae-hoon led South Korea with six goals.
South Korean head coach Cho Young-shin said his players must improve their conditioning to go up against bigger and stronger opponents.
"Great players won't just fall from the sky, and I can't make the guys grow bigger," he said. "We have to be extremely fit to be competitive on the world stage."
South Korean men's handball is going through a transitional phase. After winning three consecutive Asian championships from 2008 to 2012, South Korea finished out of the medals in the last two continental events.
"Other countries have improved, and at the same time, we haven't been able to fill the void left by retired veterans," said Cho, who led South Korea to the 2010 Asian Games gold medal. "We have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch."
The Seoul Cup Handball was created in 1993 to commemorate the South Korean women's team's Olympic gold medals in 1988 and 1992.
The tournament only featured the women's teams and expanded to include the men's teams in 2015. This year, only the men's event will be contested.
Tunisia is the top-ranked team here at No. 17, followed by South Korea at No. 19 and Iran at No. 50.
Tunisia is the second-best African nation behind only Egypt (No. 15). Tunisia has qualified for every world championship since 1995, reaching the round of 16 in 2013 and 2015. It also qualified for the past two Olympic Games.
Before the game, Tunisia head coach Antonio Gerona said the Seoul Cup Handball kicks off a series of key events for his team, including the African championships later this year, the 2019 world championships and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Tunisia was knocked out of the group stage at both the 2016 Olympics and the 2017 world championships.
"Tunisian players are very aggressive," he said. "They're hot-blooded athletes who love to win. I believe we can get to at least the second round at the Tokyo Olympics."
Though Iran is behind South Korea in the world rankings, it has outperformed South Korea at the two most recent Asian Men's Handball Championships. Iran was third in 2014 and fifth in 2016, while South Korea finished fifth in 2014 and sixth in 2016. (Yonhap)