January 28, 2023

Published from Mumbai, Delhi & Bhopal

Wrestler Bajrang Punia secures semifinal spot with stunning win over Iranian

Tokyo: Top Indian grappler Bajrang Punia defeated Iran’s Morteza Ghiasi by fall in the quarterfinal of the Tokyo Olympic Games men’s 65kg event to secure a last-four berth at the Makuhari Messe Hall on Friday.

With the win over Ghiasi, Punia has been assured of a medal match at the Olympics. If the Indian gets through his semifinal bout, he will be guaranteed of a silver medal. If he loses, he gets to compete in the bronze-medal match.

Punia, who had survived a close Round-of-16 match, was early on the back-foot against his Iranian opponent. Ghiasi tried to attack his heavily-strapped right leg, but couldn’t. Punia conceded only one passivity point at the end of the first period.

In the second period, Ghiasi had the right-leg hold to pull off a takedown but Punia defended well. With the passivity clock against him, Punia made a turnaround by locking his opponent’s neck, moved him over to the mat and pinning his shoulders, thus earning a win by fall.

Punia will be up against Haji Aliyev from Azerbaijan in the semifinal. The 30-year-old Aliyev was a 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist in 57kg and a three-time world champion in 61kg. He is also a two-time European champion in the 65kg category.

Though they haven’t met internationally, the only meeting between the two came in the 2019 Pro Wrestling League. Punia defeated Aliyev 8-6 to give his side, Punjab Royals, a win against the MP Yodhas.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Aliyev defeated third seed Daulet Niyazkebov of Kazakhstan 9-1 to enter the last-four stage. In the Round of 16, he beat Adama Diatta of Senegal 4-0.

Earlier on Friday, Punia had survived a scare to overcome Kyrgyzstan’s Ernazar Akmataliev in the opening Round-of-16 bout to set up a quarterfinal clash against Ghiasi.

Punia, 27, who is making his Olympic debut, earned his first point after a passivity penalty on his Kyrgyzstan opponent, Akmataliev.

Akmataliev levelled the score with a push-out but in the final moments of the first period, Punia surged ahead 3-1 with a takedown.

Early in the second period, Punia looked the more aggressive of the two grapplers but Akmataliev held his ground with a tight defence.

Towards the end, though, the Kyrgyzstan wrestler made his move and scored back-to-back pushouts to level the score at 3-3. Punia defended with all his might in the final seconds of the bout to not concede a point.

Despite the score being level at the end of the contest, Punia took the win since he had scored the highest-scoring move in the match — the two-point takedown in the first period.

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