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Eumir Marcial stronger heading into rematch with Oleksandr Khyzhniak, says trainer

With a single right hook, Filipino middleweight Eumir Marcial booked a ticket into the medal rounds of the Tokyo Olympics.

While he's already guaranteed a bronze medal, he has his sights set on gunning for gold, even as a familiar foe stands in his way.

Scoring the big knockout against Armenian Arman Darchinyan on Sunday set up Marcial for a semifinal showdown with top-seed Oleksandr Khyzhniak on Thursday at 2:03 p.m. (TV5 and One Sports).

Khyzhniak, the pride of Ukraine, defeated Moriwaki Yuito via split decision in the Round of 16 and then qualified for the semifinals with another split decision against Euri Cedeno Martinez. His was a rockier road compared to the one taken by Marcial who has looked dominant so far, needing only 2:41 to oust Younes Nemouchi and 2:11 to eliminate Darchinyan.

The last time Khyzhniak and Marcial met in the middle of the ring in 2019, the Ukrainian emerged victorious as the Filipino slugger had to retire due to injury.

This time around, Marcial is very much hopeful for a different result, especially with an ace up his sleeve in coach Don Abnett.

The Australian trainer and tactician has been in charge of mapping out the game plan for Filipino fighters and that has evidently helped them elevate their performance. As it stands, this is already the most successful stint of the Philippine boxing team in the Olympiad with Marcial, Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio already assured of mints.

"It's going to be a bag of tricks for his next fight. He needs to stay out of the pathway (of Khyzhniak)," said Abnett as he assessed Marcial's next opponent right after their triumph over Darchinyan. "He wants to go in one direction: forward, forward, forward. If you open the space too much, he closes the space very quickly and restricts your movements."

According to Abnett, the key is finding the right balance between staying aggressive and staying away from the Ukrainian's forward push.

"The aim is going be to hit and move to the side and hit and move to the side, but stay close to him rather than open the space and let him come in," he furthered.

Marcial has said many times in the past that Manny Pacquiao is his idol. Now, he might need to emulate one of "Pacman's" signature moves in the lead left followed by a sidestep and duck under.

Aside from a more defined and detailed game plan, in the Australian coach's view, what's different about the rematch is that the Filipino is coming in stronger and with more confidence in himself.

"Eumir is stronger. That's true," he said. "The last four weeks of his training have been good. It was a hard transition to bring him back to the amateurs, but we're hoping it's enough."