Week 8, Group A: is a reshuffle on the cards?
Our headline clash this weekend from Group A is the third placed Team Germany verses the second placed Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder. But with both the Algeria Desert Hawks and the USA Knockouts now lying just a point behind the Eagles, the pressure is on the German boxers to take at least one point from the encounter; or better still all three.
The Thunder however are only a point behind group leaders, the Ukraine Otamans who still have a game in hand. The desire to top the group and face a potentially easier draw is strong for the Italians, meaning this could be a tough weekend for Team Germany.
Team Germany vs. Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder
Unsurprisingly, with so much at stake, the Thunder are pulling some big names out of the hat this weekend. The talented Light Flyweight (46-49kg) Mark Barriga of the Philippines is one to watch out for. Although only 1-0 in the World Series of Boxing (WSB), he impressed in his performances in AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) competition last year and at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in October.
Light Welterweight (64kg) Branimir Stankovic will add experience to the Italian line-up. The Serbian is 7-3 in the WSB and is in his third season with the Thunder. He will want to make up for the away loss to the Ukraine Otamans that has been a smear on his campaign so far this year. His opponent Kastriot Sopa makes his first appearance in the WSB this year and is currently 2-1. Guess who that loss was to? That’s right, Stankovic. The rematch should be interesting.
At Heavyweight (91kg) Hungarian Imre Szello steps in at the last minute for World Champion Clemente Russo. The thirty year old is not a bad swap. With his 11-3 WSB record, he has the experience to cause Germany’s Emir Ahmatovic (1-0) some serious difficulties.
USA Knockouts vs. Algeria Desert Hawks
If Italy vs. Germany is the biggest match on paper, then this is the most critical one in Group A this weekend. If Germany were to lose at home or merely leave the game with a point, then a clear winner between the USA and the Desert Hawks would leapfrog them in the table. With Germany having two matches in hand, both teams will want to take the full three points from this match to seize that chance.
Given the magnitude of the encounter, the Hawks have pulled out all the stops, whilst the Knockouts have selected if not their most experienced boxers, then those who possess some of the best winning rates. World silver medallist Mohamed Flissi (2-2) will make just his second outing of the season at Light Flyweight and will be a real challenge for Porto Rican Knockouts boxer Anthony Chacon. Ilyas Abbadi (4-1) will be appearing at Middleweight (75kg) and Chouaib Bouloudinats (11-5) will be fighting at Heavyweight. With the exception of the unfortunate withdrawal of Abdelkader Chadi at Light Welterweight, this really does represent the Algerian first pick team.
Argentina Condors vs. Ukraine Otamans
In the final match of the group this weekend, the table topping Ukraine Otamans will face the basement boys, the Argentina Condors. The South American team are a long way from being out of the mix however, lying only two points behind both the USA Knockouts and the Algeria Desert Hawks, they could still snatch a place in the Playoffs. To do so however, they will need to cause a big upset at home this weekend.
The Ukrainians haven’t sent a team that will roll over easily. Despite handing debuts to Light Flyweight Dymtro Zamotayev and Heavyweight Gevorg Manukian, the spine of their team is held together by the world class Bantamweight Mykola Butsenko and the vastly experienced Middleweight Dmytro Mytrofanov. Mytrofanov was instrumental in the Otamans’ rise to prominence last year, winning six of seven bouts.
Having claimed some of the biggest scalps in the WSB and with a record of 9:2, the Ukrainian is one of the Otamans go-to boxers when things get tough. However the Ukrainians don’t desperately need the win, so the question will be whether the Argentinean boxers are hungry enough to upset the odds this weekend.
Week 8, Group B: Last chance saloon for Mexico
As the brave Mexico Guerreros boxers take to the ring with the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan, they will know that nothing less than a win against the defending World Series of Boxing (WSB) Champions will leave them with any hope of going through to the Playoffs.
Even that slim window of opportunity is dependent on the performance of the Azerbaijan Baku Fires, who should they win against bottom placed Poland this weekend, will firmly close the door on last season’s semi-finalists.
Mexico Guerreros vs. Astana Arlans Kazakhstan
It’s now or never for the Mexico Guerreros if they want to qualify for this year’s Playoffs. Six points adrift of fourth place Azerbaijan Baku Fires, last season’s semi-finalists need to pull out all the stops and quickly. Their team selection seems to indicate that they are indeed mustering all their strength for a last ditch push. 2013 WSB Boxer of the Year Elias Emigdio (15-3) will lead his team out at Flyweight (52kg) against the capable Miras Zhakupov (5-1).
At 7-1, Welterweight (69kg) Marvin Cabrera hasn’t been beaten since Week 3 of Season II and will need to be on his best form for the Guerreros. Filip Hrgovic, at 17-3, is one of the most successful boxers in the WSB and will not be easy to unseat at Super Heavyweight (91+kg). He will be joined on the Arlans team by his countryman Hrvoje Sep at Light Heavyweight (81kg). Together they represent quite a fearsome pair at the big end of Kazakhstan’s selection. At Lightweight (60kg), watch out for Samat Bashenov who is a handful for anyone on his day.
Azerbaijan Baku Fires vs. Hussars Poland
In our second Group B encounter this weekend, the WSB “Bad Boys”, the Azerbaijan Baku Fires, have had an impressive season in what is probably the hardest group the competition has ever seen. Now with the contest between the Russian Boxing Team and the Cuba Domadores postponed to March the 12th, the Fires have the chance to move one point ahead of the Russians in the table if they can fight off the Hussars Poland. In so doing, they would also effectively kill off the Mexican challenge, making it mathematically impossible for the Guerreros to catch them.
The Fires must be fairly confident against the visiting Hussars, as despite the great prize that is on offer, they have chosen to field a team made up almost exclusively of debutants. The sole exception is Super Heavyweight Arslanbek Makmudov who is 3-3. This is either risky or tactically ingenious, as with the important playoffs now almost upon us, the Fires will need their top boxers fresh to face one of Group A’s top two teams. For the Hussars, who cannot now qualify for the final stage, there seems to be an emphasis on developing for next season.
The draw was always particularly tough on the Hussars who nonetheless battled on admirably. This weekend they are handing the opportunity for experience and redemption to a number of their younger boxers, with 21 year old Ireneusz Zakrzewski the most experienced boxer on the team with a 1-2 record over two seasons, including a win in last year’s quarter-final against the Italia Thunder.
The question is, with the Hussars famous for their never say die spirit, have the Fires made a tactical error in selecting their least experienced boxers, or will the gamble prove a master stroke?