Tokyo : India’s Bajrang Punia suffered a huge setback as he lost to Aliyev Haji of Azerbaijan, going down 12-5 on points in the semifinals of the 65kg freestyle wrestling and will now fight for the bronze medal on Saturday.Punia, who had survived a scare in the pre-quarterfinals against Akmataliev Ernazar of Kyrgyzstan and outplayed Ghiasi Cheka Morteza of Iran in the semifinals, went behind 1-4 on points in the first period and then came under repeated attacks from the Azerbaijani in the second to lose by a big margin.Punia did fight back in the second period by claiming four points but Aliyev, the bronze medallist in 57kg in Rio de Janeiro and a three-time world champion in 61kg, proved too strong with late attacks.Punia will now face the winner of the repechage round bout between Senegal’s Adama Diatta and Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov in the bronze medal match on Saturday.Punia was India’s best hope for a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics but he did not have a perfect build-up for the mega event as he struggled for a proper sparring partner in the country during the lockdown. Though he went to Europe to prepare for the Olympics, his progress was also hampered by an injury to his right knee, which was heavily strapped on Friday.The grappler from Haryana started off well against Haji Aliyev in the semifinal and earned the first point awarded to him because of passivity on part of his rival.
That seemed to have spurred the Azerbaijani grappler into action as he launched a strong attack, taking down Punia for two points twice at the Makuhari Messe Hall on Friday.At the end of the first period, Aliyev led 4-1 and Punia had a lot to play for after the break.Trailing on points, Punia was forced to throw caution to the wind and attack his rival. Aliyev took advantage of the opening and scored another four points after getting hold of the Indian wrestler’s ankles and twirling him around a couple of times.Punia tried to claw his way back in the bout, but Aliyev kept winning points to clinch the bout 12-5.In the final, Aliyev will face Japan’s Takuto Otoguro, the 2018 world champion, in the gold medal match.Earlier, Punia started his Tokyo Olympics campaign with two contrasting wins to make it to the semifinals.He defeated Iran’s Ghiasi by fall in the quarterfinals after surviving a close shave against Ernazar Akmataliev of Kyrgyzstan in the Round of 16.Against Ghiasi, the 27-year-old Punia seemed to be on the back-foot as the Iranian targeted his right knee. Trailing 1-0 heading into the second period, the Indian seemed to be on the back-foot initially against Ghiasi’s relentless attacks but turned the tables emphatically with one swift move to pin his opponent’s shoulders to the mat and earn a victory by fall.Punia had narrowly escaped in the Round of 16 against Akmataliev.He seemed to be in a comfortable position, leading 3-1 with seconds left on the clock but Akmataliev levelled the score up with two late push-outs and had the Indian wrestler defending for his life in the closing stages.Despite the match ending with the score of 3-3, Punia took the win since he had scored the highest-scoring move in the match — the two-point takedown in the first period while his opponent had managed only one-point moves.