Baku, May 18, AZERTAC
Hosts Azerbaijan dominated the semi-finals of the boxing competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games on Wednesday as six of their athletes reached Thursday's finals.
It was also a good day for Uzbekistan, who will have a chance to contest gold-medal bouts in three different weight categories.
The semi-finals in all 10 weight divisions were held at Baku's Crystal Hall on Wednesday, with the 20 losers earning themselves a bronze medal.
Azerbaijan's first bout of the day ended in disappointment, as Tayfur Aliyev was comfortably beaten by Uzbekistan's Abdulkhay Sharakhmatov in the bantamweight (56kg) semi-finals.
Sharakhmatov silenced the vocal home support as he controlled the fight from start to finish, setting up a final showdown with Turkmenistan's Yakub Meredov.
The Azerbaijani fans were soon cheering again, though, as their boxers won back-to-back bouts towards the end of the afternoon session.
Kamran Shakhsuvarly - one of the host nation's 14 athlete ambassadors - made short work of Morocco's Youness Gharroumi to set up a middleweight (75kg) final clash against Kazakhstan's Tursynbay Kulahmet.
Azerbaijan's Teymur Mammadov then used all of his experience to see off Syria's Alaa Eldin Ghoussoun in the heavyweight (91kg) class.
Mammadov - gold medallist at the 2015 European Games in Baku and Olympic bronze medallist at London 2012 - will come up against Burak Aksin of Turkey in Thursday's showpiece.
The hot streak continued through to the evening session, where Azerbaijan won all four of their bouts to put six home boxers in a position to strike gold.
Former world amateur champion Javid Chalabiyev powered past Kazakhstan's Sultan Zaurbek to reach the lightweight (60kg) final, although the Azeri may have his hands full against Ammar Karbalai of Iraq, who claimed a comfortable unanimous-points victory over Turkmenistan's Hursand Imankuliyev.
There is also a blockbuster showdown on the cards in the welterweight (69kg) class, where Azerbaijan's Tamerlan Abdullayev will take on the imposing Bobo-Usmon Baturov of Uzbekistan, who has won all of his fights by unanimous decision.
Home hopeful Rauf Rahimov didn't need to throw a single punch to reach the light heavyweight (81kg) final, after his opponent Abdelrahman Abdelgawwad of Egypt retired.
Rahimov was one of two men to progress by walkover, with Kazakhstan's Azat Mahmetov also moving into the flyweight (52kg) final after Algeria's Oussama Mordjane threw in the towel.
The last bout of the day saw Mahammadrasul Majidov become the sixth Azeri to book his place in the finals, with a reasonably straightforward victory over Jordan's Hussein Iashaish.
At one point in a frenzied bout the hulking Majidov threatened to make mincemeat of Iashaish, but the Jordanian hit back and forced the judges into a split decision.
When the fight was called in Majidov's favour, Crystal Hall responded with its biggest cheers of the night.
Azerbaijan therefore have the chance to close the gap on Turkey in the overall Solidarity Games medal table on Thursday, although they will come up against some serious rivals who are also gunning for gold.
After topping the boxing medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Uzbekistan will be out to underline their status as one of the sport's powerhouses.
The Uzbeks have three opportunties to strike gold after Sharakhmatov (56kg), Baturov (69kg) and Aliyor Noraliev (64kg) all came through their semi-final bouts by unanimous decision.
Iraq, Syria, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have also placed two of their boxers in different finals, but spare a thought for Jordan, who lost all three of their bouts and had to settle for a hat-trick of bronze medals instead.
The gold-medal bouts in all 10 weight categories will be staged at Crystal Hall on Thursday.
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