March 25 - Kazakhstan's World Series of Boxing (WSB) franchise Astana Arlans and Italian outfit Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder have edged towards to finals of the competition in London after both claimed leads in their respective semi-final first legs.
The Astana Arlans secured a narrow 3-2 advantage against Russia's Dynamo Moscow fighting at home while Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder destroyed Azerbaijan's Baku Fires 5-0 at home in Italy to all but secure their place in the WSB team finals in May at the ExCeL, the venue for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
It was the Astana Arlans and Dynamo Moscow who met first at the Daulet Sports Complex in the heart of the Kazak capital but the away side took the early advantage as 21-year-old Russian rising star Vladimir Nikitin from Moscow defeated the experienced Mirzhan Rakhimzhanovof (pictured above) to give the away team a 1-0 lead.
Kazak lightweight Merey Akshalov brought the score back to 1-1 whith a victory over Moscow's Vazgen Safaryants before Astana's middleweight Miras Bairkhanov beat Vitali Bandarenka to make it 2-1 to the home side.
Astana's Ramzjon Ahmedov helped the lead grow to 3-1 with a victory over Danil Shved in the light heavyweight contest, but in the final contest of the night Sergey Kalchugin of Moscow defeated Astana's star Ruslan Myrsatayev to secure a vital point and make it 3-2 overall at the end of the first leg.
Dynamo Moscow will hope to overturn the deficit at home when the two teams meet in the decisive second leg in the Russian capital next week.
Meanwhile in the other semi-final, Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder appear to have already put the result beyond doubt as they whitewashed Baku Fires at home at the spectacular Mediolanum Forum in Assago near Milan.
Italian 27-year-old Vincenzo Picardi (pictured above) got Milano off to the perfect start as he defeated Germakhanov in the bantamweight contest and his teammate Branimir Stankovic quickly followed in the lightweight contest as he beat Baku Fires' Tajik Madadi Nagzibekov.
It quickly became 3-0 in the middleweight contest as undefeated Irishman William McLaughlin of Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder defeated Osman Aliyev and then 4-0 as Imre Szello beat Baku's Vatan Huseynli in the light heavyweight bout.
It was then left to Milano's heavyweight Clemente Russo, the 2007 world champion and reigning Olympic silver medallist, to close the show in style as the 29-year-old Italian battered Baku's Haji Murtuzaliyev to maintain his WSB unbeaten record and give the hosts a perfect 5-0 record.
Baku Fires now have a mountain to climb to make the final when they fight at home next week as Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder only need one point to qualify for the London team finals.
However, fighting in their home country, Baku may be able to battle back from the brink and force an unlikely sudden death bout.
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