Bajrang Punia put his tactical acumen and strength to good use in the second period to pin Iran’s Morteza Cheka Ghiasi for a semifinal berth in the men’s free-style 65kg event which took him closer to a medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

Punia trailed the Iranian for a major part of the bout after being severely crippled by Ghiasi’s defensive tactics, especially the body-locks. Twice the Indian was put on activity clock and also left to defend his right leg when Ghiasi got hold of it.

As the second period moved towards the final minute, Ghiasi looked like making a dangerous move when he got hold of Punia’s right leg and almost pulled off a take down.

But the Indian not only wriggled out of that clutch, he locked the neck of Ghiasi and moved into a position from where he turned his rival, pushed him on the mat and held him with his immense strength to emerge victorious by fall.

He will now fight it out with Azerbaijan’s Haji Aliev for a place in the gold medal bout. Aliev is three-time world champion and bronze-winner from the Rio Games.

Before this bout, a timely take-down move helped him beat Kyrgyzstan’s Ernazar Akmataliev in his opening bout.

At the end of the first period, the Indian was ahead 3-1 but Akmataliev ran Punia close in the second period, getting two push-out points to level the scores.

Since Punia had the high scoring move, a two-pointer take down, he was declared winner on criteria.

It was not the most fluent victories that he is known for, but was just enough for the Indian, who came into the Games after suffering a minor knee injury during a local Russian tournament.

Earlier, debutant Indian wrestler Seema Bisla could not find a way to get out of the defensive trap of Tunisia’s Sarra Hamdi and lost her 50kg opening round 1-3.

The 27-year-old could not make her moves as Hamdi applied the body lock to great effect, never allowing Seema to initiate a strong attack. There hardly any moves in the bout with Hamdi getting two of her three points on push out and one on Bisla’s passivity.

Seema got on board when she too pushed her rival out after being put on activity clock for a second time.

She now needs the Tunisian to make the final for return to competition through the repechage route.

The Rohtak grappler had not even won a national event till 2017 but went on to secure her berth for the Games by winning the World Olympic Qualifier, held in Sofia in May. PTI

With PTI Inputs