Four British boxers chase World Amateur Boxing gold medals
Last updated on .From the section Boxing
With 570 boxers from across the globe and 560 bouts during an intense 12 days of competition, two boxing rings are used during the early stages of the biennial World Amateur Boxing Championships, simply to accommodate all the elite amateurs itching for a fight.
But come the business end of the competition, where the podium places are decided, two rings become one, as the world's best pugilists jostle for final positions on the medal platform.
GB Boxing has an unprecedented four fighters at this semi-final stage, who have each endured, and prevailed, in a gruelling gauntlet of fights and now find themselves two wins away from gold medal glory.
The tournament may have begun under an ominous cloud of corruption allegations, but the four remaining GB boxers - who have earned a bronze medal at the very least - have been unperturbed, displaying uncommon endurance, focus and skill.
Gatecrashing the global stage in just his second senior multi-nations tournament is super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua.
The 21-year-old Londoner came back from a first-round deficit to outpoint the reigning Olympic and defending double world champion Roberto Cammerelle.
It was the first defeat for the Italian policeman from Milan in global competition since the 2005 World Championships (where he claimed bronze).
Joshua will now have to regroup and refocus after that momentous victory - among the most significant in the history of British amateur boxing - to face 24 year-old German champion Erik Pfeifer in the semi-finals.
Pfeifer has produced three commanding victories himself to reach this stage, including a 22-14 points decision over 2009 world silver medallist Roman Kapitonenko in the round of 16.
Hull bantamweight Luke Campbell has channelled the disappointment of an early exit from the recent European Championships in Turkey to produce a series of brilliant performances here. He also dethroned a defending world champion to reach the medal stage, outpointing Bulgaria's Detelin Dalakliev 12-8.
In order to progress to the final, Campbell will have to topple another reigning medallist - Ireland's John Joe Nevin took bronze in Milan two years ago and is determined to improve his status here.
An Olympian from Beijing, Nevin already holds an international victory over Campbell from the EU Championships in 2009. An adaptable fighter who can be elusive or aggressive, Nevin has produced two come-from-behind wins so far in this tournament, meaning that this is likely to be a fight right up to the final bell.
Tom Stalker's astonishing run of international success continues here in Baku. The light-welterweight from Liverpool was named the Boxing Writers' Amateur Boxer of the Year in 2010 after claiming European silver and Commonwealth Games gold.
He's moved up to the 64kg division this term, but has performed in his usual exciting, expressive fashion, winning another European silver in Turkey in June and securing his 2012 Olympic place here.
Stalker is the highest seeded 64kg boxer left in the championships, and he exuded confidence after his quarter-final win over fellow Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Manoj Kumar of India.
The GB captain's opponent in the final four is 23-year-old Denys Berinchyk, who will be contesting his sixth bout of the tournament. The Ukrainian has already defeated the defending champion, Cuba's Roniel Iglesias, and overcame an incredibly boisterous, partisan crowd to dominate Azerbaijan's 2009 European Youth bronze medallist Gaybatulla Gadzhialieyev, 33-19, in his quarter-final.
Welshman Andrew Selby completes the quartet of GB boxers to make the final four stage. The European gold medallist has been irresistible throughout the tournament, displaying blazing hand-speed and an acute tactical brain to control his contests decisively.
He also demonstrated considerable courage and determination to withstand a furious fightback from Ireland's Michael Conlan in the final round of their quarter-final, doing enough to earn a hard-fought 25-24 points verdict.
Selby has more incentive than most to go for gold at these Championships; England's Khalid Yafai also secured an Olympic berth by reaching the quarter-finals in Baku.
The only way Selby can now ensure his place at London 2012 is by winning the tournament outright. Anything less, and he and Yafai face the prospect of fighting each other in a winner-takes-all box-off to determine Great Britain's Olympic flyweight representative.
Standing between Selby and a place in the final is Uzbekistan's Jasurbek Latipov, who boxed impressively in his quarter-final to outpoint Italy's reigning Olympic bronze medallist Vincenzo Picardi.
If the semi-finalists from England and Wales are grouped beneath the umbrella of GB Boxing, then the combined total of four fighters ranks Britain as the joint second nation here in Baku behind Ukraine, but tied with established boxing nation Kazakhstan, and ahead of traditional powerhouses Cuba and Russia (who each have three boxers in the semis).
Irrespective of the results in the semi-finals, performance director Robert McCracken and his staff deserve an enormous amount of credit for the results and medals that they have consistently delivered since McCracken's appointment in November 2009. This was just after the World Championships in Milan, where British boxers failed to win a single medal.
But let's also salute the boxers, who represent Britain with immense pride and have cultivated a genuine team spirit in this most individual of sports.
Those who haven't made the medal bouts will be cheering their team-mates to the rafters at the Heydar Aliyev Sports Complex, hoping that they'll make it through to fight for gold in Saturday's finals.