LONDON : Kaew Pongprayoon of Kamphaeng Phet dispatched Russian opponent David Ayrapetyan on Friday night (Thailand time) to put himself in the running to win Thailand's only gold medal of the London Olympics.
Virtually the entire nation watched Kaew fight a crafty, careful fight against Ayrapetyan, winning by a single point against the clearly frustrated Russian.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather at Kaew's home in Kamphaeng Phet and his wife's house in Ayutthaya to watch the final on TV.
Kaew will also be cheered by millions of fans who will be glued to their TV early Sunday morning.
As he has done since the start of the Games, Kaew came out cautiously on Friday evening, battling Ayrapetyan to a 3-3 draw in the first round, then opening up to launch body shots and take the lead 6-5 in the second.
He shut down again in the third, boxing defensively and denying Ayrapetyan any chance to land counting shots, and held on for a clear, well-deserved win.
He now faces top-ranked Chinese boxer Zou Shiming in the final at 2:30 Sunday morning, Thailand time.
"I am not afraid of him although I have lost to him twice," said Kaew, from Kamphaeng Phet.
"Fighting him is always tough, not because of his skills but his dirty tactics."
Kaew claimed the top-seeded Chinese often grabs his opponents and ducks low to avoid punches. In their previous meeting at the 2011 world championships in Azerbaijan, Kaew was well beaten 14-8 in the quarter-finals. Zou went on to win his third world title.
"I am ready for the challenge. I have a 50-50 chance to win," said Kaew. "I will do my best for all Thais. I am not feeling nervous because it is going to be my last fight of the tournament."
Kaew aims to become the fifth Thai boxer to win a gold medal since Somluck Kamsing became the first in 1996 at Atlanta.
Other gold medallists in boxing were Wijan Ponlid at Sydney (2000), Manus Boonjumnong at Athens (2004), and Somjit Jongjohor at the last Games in Beijing.
He is just the third Thai medallist at the London Olympics, and the only male. Pimsiri Sirikaew won silver in weightlifting and Chanatip Sonkham won bronze in taekwondo.
Zou "The Fox" Shiming, who barely edged Irishman Paddy Barnes in a 15-15 countback in the semi-final, is a rangy, highly experienced fighter who came into the Olympic tournament seeded as the Number One light flyweight.
He earned his nickname for his ability to stay just outside his opponent's reach, then darting in to score a point.
Kaew has fought his way into the gold-medal match with virtually identical tactics.
The question is whether the 5cm (2-inch) height advantage will matter for the Shanghai boxer.
The two match up well otherwise. Zou is 31, Kaew 32. Zou has fought in more tournaments, Kaew has extensive experience in individual bouts.
Zou began boxing in 1997 after converting from wushu, and his first fight for China was nine years ago - at the World Championships in Bangkok. After the 2007 World Championships in the US, Zou was named China's "most valuable boxer".
He won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, and then won China's first boxing gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, where he served as captain of the country's boxing team. He also was 2010 Asian Games champion - all at the 49kg light flyweight division.
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