Islam Magomedov sealed Russia's gold medal hat-trick with success in the 98kg category ©Getty Images

Russia were the dominant force on the opening day of men's Greco-Roman wrestling action here, winning three of the four gold medals available with the other going to hosts Azerbaijan.

Stepan Maryanyan got Russia off the mark in the 59 kilogram category, overcoming Belarus' Soslan Daurov in the final before compatriot Evgeny Saleev beat home favourite Rafig Huseynov in the 80kg and fellow countryman Islam Magomedov defeated Ukraine's Dimitriy Timchenko in a politically-charged 98kg showdown.

Sandwiched between the victories of Maryanyan and Saleev was a 71kg gold medal for Azerbaijan's Rasul Chunayev to the sheer delight of much of the raucous crowd.

Maryanyan, the 2010 junior world champion, won on points against silver medallist Daurov, while the bronzes went to Azerbaijan's Elman Mukhtarov and France's Tarik Belmadani at the expense of Armenia's Roman Amoyan and Moldova's Victor Ciobanu respectively.

“It was the most difficult competition in my career, and the final bout was the hardest," said Maryanyan. 

"It is possible to say that I was the luckier one.

"But the competition was on a a high level - Azerbaijan hosted very well."

Mukhtarov's encounter with Amoyan was particularly feisty given the ongoing conflict between the two athletes' respective nations, and it clearly was not lost on the partisan crowd who made for a superb, and at times, hostile atmosphere. 

It was cranked up another notch later in the evening when Chunayev battled his way to gold, Azerbaijan's first in their national sport at the European Games, with Hungary's Balint Korpasi condemned to second place.

Croatia's Dominik Etlinger won the first 71kg bronze medal match against Bulgaria's Svilen Kostadinov, before Germany's Frank Staebler got the better of Georgia's Mindia Tsulukidze.

Rasul Chunayev secured a gold medal for host nation Azerbaijan in the 71kg category
Rasul Chunayev secured a gold medal for host nation Azerbaijan in the 71kg category ©Getty Images

With both Russia and Azerbaijan on one gold medal apiece, the 80kg final between Saleev and Huseynov had even more riding on it than perhaps was initially anticipated. 

As it was, Saleev won on points to silence the home crowd, while the bronze medals went to Bulgaria's Daniel Aleksandrov and Belarus' Viktar Sasunouski with Turkey's Selcuk Cebi and Ukraine's Oleksandr Shyshman narrowly missing out on a podium finish.

“Russia showed today that they are much stronger than Azerbaijan," said Saleev. 

"My win was revenge for losing against Huseynov in the World Cup.

"The noise of the crowd only inspired us to perform better."

The last bout of the evening saw Magomedov seal Russia's hat-trick of gold medals, as the 24-year-old outdid his Ukrainian opponent Timchenko.

France won their second 98kg bronze medal through Melonin Noumonvi, while the other went to Turkey's Cenk Ildem.

Ildem outdid Orkhan Nuriyev to the host nation's disappointment after Noumonvi had eased to success against Belarus' Tsimafei Dzeinichenka. 

The men's Greco-Roman wrestling is due to continue tomorrow with the medals in the 66kg, 75kg, 85kg and 130kg categories all to be decided. 

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