Bajrang Punia is just a step away from becoming Indias second gold medallist at the World Wrestling Championships as he knocked out Alejandro Valdes Tobier of Cuba 4-3 to enter the men’s freestyle 65 kilogram final here.
In a close bout on Sunday night, the Indian staved off a late threat from his Cuban rival who narrowed down the lead from 4-1 to 4-3 before emerging as the deserving winner.
India has a lone gold medal in world wrestling which Sushil Kumar won in Moscow in 2010. Punia could add his name to the elite list when he takes on Japan’s Takuto Otoguro in the final.
In the other semi-final, the Japanese beat Akhmed Chakaev of Russia 15-10. One of the pre-tournament favourites, the Russian en route to his semi-finals had sent two former world champions packing earlier in the day.
“I am much relieved after two close bouts. I knew he is a good wrestler but he was very desperate in the second period. He attacked unexpectedly which helped him gain two points in the last minute,” Punia said.
“When opponent is down, he normally goes all out attack in the last minute. I was trying to defend my lead but I need to be careful about this in the final. I have lost crucial points in the last couple of bouts in dying seconds and can’t repeat the same,” he added.
Asked if he had time to watch the Japanese in action, Punia said: “I watched a bit of it after my match. He was overpowering against his Russian rival. I will watch his video and plan how to tackle him along with my coaching staff.”
The first period of the semi-final was not as tense as one expected it to be. The Indian was too good with his defence and attacked the Cuban’s legs. On the first takedown he opened his account with two points but conceded one for a step out to his opponent.
But Punia added two more points for another take down to lead 4-1 at the end of the first period.
The first three minutes of the second period proved to be very defensive as the Cuban ably avoided the Indian but in the last minute attacked well and earned two points for the take down and another for a step out by the Indian.
But the Indian used his strong defence to ensure that he did not relax yet again and give away unnecessary points with 20-odd seconds to go.