India’s Bajrang Punia used all his experience as he stormed into the semi-finals in the men’s freestyle 65kg category at Tokyo Olympics to move within a win of a medal.
The Indian survived a big scare in the opening bout against Kyrgystan’s Elnazar Ekmataliev in the Round of 16 as he won on criteria after the scores were tied at 3-3.
In the quarter-final against Iran’s Cheka Ghiasi, Punia was trailing by a solitary point until he pinned his opponent to win the bout and reach the semi-final.
In the last-four clash, Punia will be up against Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan, a true wrestling veteran.
Aliyev is a three-time world champion and won bronze at Rio Olympics. However, all those successes were achieved in lighter weight categories. All his world championship golds came in the 61kg category while he won the Olympic medal competing in the 57kg category.
He has been as successful in the 65kg category as well winning back-to-back gold medals at European championships in 2018 and 2019. He also won the gold medal at the 2019 European Games, making him the strongest competitor in that weight category in Europe.
Haji Aliyev's career achievements
|2017 Wrestling World Cup
|2018 Wrestling World Cup
|2018 European Championships
| 2019 European Championships
|2019 European Games
|2020 Individual World Cup
At Tokyo, Aliyev started with a victory by points (4-0) over Senegal’s Adama Diatta before an impressive 9-1 victory against Kazakhstan’s third-seed Daulet Niyazbekov.
Aliyev at Tokyo 2020
|Round of 16
| Adama Diatta
|4-0 (Victory by points)
|9-1 (Victory by points)
Punia hasn’t looked in full flow in Tokyo so far with his heavily strapped knee seemingly limiting him during his bouts so far. But impressive tactics and composure have been on display so far as he has navigated through the tricky tests well.
Aliyev will present a tough test for Punia in the semi-finals and the Indian will have to be at his best to have a chance of winning and reaching the final.
Punia had got the better of the Azerbaijan wrestler in the 2019 Pro Wrestling League beating him 8-6 in the only previous meeting between the two wrestlers.