Olympic champion Vasyl Lomachenko will be the headline act in Saturday's finals of the 2008 European Elite Championships in Liverpool, England after a riveting day of semifinal action at the Greenbank Academy on Thursday.
On a day when all five Russian semifinalists qualified for finals, Lomachenko continued his charge towards his first European title becoming one of four Ukranians to advance to the finals. But it wasn't easy for the 20-year-old, who previously had two relatively comfortable victories, having to work hard to beat European Union champion Hicham Ziouti of France 2:1 in his 57kg semifinal.
Pic: Pic: Lomachenko (in red) did it tough against France's Hicham Ziouti
"It was tough, his defence was very good but it was just a matter of plying away," Lomachenko said. "Since becoming Olympic champion, everyone is out to beat you and this bout was no different. I have been training very, very hard to make sure that I don't slip up and I'm definitely not taking anything for granted."
The amiable Ukrainian, who is in his last year of studies towards becoming a sports instructor, has his eye on further glory following a two year period which brought him a 2007 World Championship silver medal and the Olympic title. "I'm taking one day at a time but first thing I would like to win this tournament and then I have the 2008 World Cup in Moscow on the agenda before looking forward to next year's World Championships in Italy."
Lomachenko will face 22-year-old Russian Araik Ambartsumov, who is competing in his first international competition, in the final.
In other key bouts, Hungarian team captain Gyula Kate beat Ireland's John Joe Joyce in the first 64kg semifinal 8:2 to increase his lead in the ledger between the two to 4:1, Kate's only defeat being in the 2008 Olympic Games. "I had to change my tactics after Beijing," Kate, a 2004 and 2008 Olympian, 2000 Junior world champion and 2003 world championship, 2004 and 2006 European Championship bronze medallist, said. "In Beijing I boxed too straight so I suffered from his counter punches and lost 9:5.
Pic: Germany's Jack Culcay-Keth (in blue) made it a bad day for France by beating Jaoid Chiguer 9:1
After seeing two of his teammates lose their semifinals, Kate, who will compete in his first major championship final on Saturday, said he felt as though he had to take the lead. "I gained some inspiration from those defeats," the 26-year-old said. "As captain I have to be a leader and I knew I had to show the way."
Kate will now face in the final another Olympic first round loser in Eduard Hambardzumyan of Armenia.
Meanwhile, Armenia's 2008 Olympian and 2006 European bronze medallist Hovhanncs Danielyan will meet another Olympian Jose de la Nieve Linares of Spain in the 48kg final after beating 19-year-old Istvan Ungvari of Hungary 4:2. Nieve Linares beat 2008 Almet Comet winner Eerhat Pehlivan on a count back after the two were tied at 6:6.
Local fans were pleased to see England's two-times national champion Luke Campbell, who has suffered only one defeat in 2008, advance to the finals where he will meet 2006 European Championship runner up and 2003 World Championship bronze medallist Detelin Dalakliev of Bulgaria after beating Germany's Denis Makarov 4:1 in their 54kg semifinal
A total of 10 countries will be represented in the finals of the European Elite Championships with, in addition to Russia and the Ukraine, Armenia and Belarus with three apiece, Bulgaria with two and England, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Sweden with one. lead the way with five finalists followed by
The finals of the 2008 European Elite Championships will take place in the Echo Arena on Saturday with Friday being a rest day starting at 19:00.