By Padraic Halpin
LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland's John Joe Nevin upset Cuban world bantamweight champion Lazaro Alvarez Estrada to move a step away from emulating team mate Katie Taylor's rare Irish gold after 10 men's Olympic finalists were decided on Friday.
Men's semi-final day, when the fights come thick and fast, is often the highlight of boxing's two weeks at the Olympics but after the women's stunning exploits on Thursday, the opening session felt like one big come down.
While Nevin sprung the surprise of the session, Ukrainian Denys Berinchyk produced one of the tournament's best rounds, scoring more points in three minutes than most have managed in nine, and China's Zou Shiming just about kept his hopes of a second successive Olympic gold alive.
Yet the women, who capped an absorbing debut at the Games with three wonderful finals, were still the talk of the arena and Nevin said Taylor's victory in front of a huge Irish crowd had inspired the rest of the team.
"We're still not done yet, I've still got to go out and get the gold but to see Katie yesterday was amazing, to see her do so well," Nevin, twice a bronze medalist at the world amateur championships, told reporters.
"No one deserves it more than her, the commitment she has and the work she puts in. She's been inspiring to see."
Nevin proved too quick for Estrada, catching the Cuban time and again with decisive left upper cuts to boss every round and take the contest 19-14.
The 23-year-old Irishman said he thought Estrada "kind of gave up" halfway through the final round, allowing him a spot of showboating described by his coach as the "Mullingar Shuffle" after Nevin's hometown.
He next faces Britain's Luke Campbell in a rematch of their razor tight world championship semi-final of a year ago. The pair's families are friends and while Campbell eased through his semi, Friday's evidence suggested that the Nevin clan might be the happier after Saturday's Anglo-Irish final.
FIRST BRAZILIAN GOLD
Estrada's team mate Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo, one of three Cuban fighters left going for a gold that evaded the great amateur boxing nation four years ago, was an impressive winner in his light-welterweight semi and takes on Berinchyk next.
The Ukrainian trailed all-action Mongolian Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg by three points after the first two rounds of their bout only to score an incredible 17 points in a blistering final round to end up a comfortable 29-21 winner.
"I showed my strong will to win in that final round, I wanted to win so much," Berinchyk said after exiting the ring with his customary victory jig.
Fellow Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, who like Berinchyk sports one of the most interesting haircuts of the Games, bulldozed his way to the heavyweight final where he should be too strong for Beijing silver-medalist Clemente Russo of Italy, a lucky winner over Azerbaijani teenager Teymur Mammadov.
Brazil will go for a first boxing gold in Saturday's middleweight final after Esquiva Falcao Florentino, whose brother Yamaguchi fights later in the last four of the light-heavyweights, was far too good for Britain's Anthony Ogogo.
While Japan's Ryota Murata stands in Falcao's way of a first gold, little Kaeo Pongprayoon of Thailand is all that separates three-times world champion Zou from a successful defense of his Olympic light flyweight title.
Zou sneaked through his semi-final against Irishman Paddy Barnes, winning on a countback after the scores were tied at 15-15, a sharp contrast from the 31-year-old's 15-0 victory over Barnes at the same stage four years ago.
Sick of the site of Zou, the now twice bronze medal winning Belfast fighter still hopes to make it to Rio de Janeiro in four years time for one main reason.
"Hopefully because he will be retired," he said.
(editing by Michael Holden)