Mixed fortunes for British boxers

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The Independent Online

Sunderland light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries moved to within one more win of an Olympic medal after squeezing past Colombia's Eleider Alvarez on countback at the Workers' Gymnasium today.



But there was heartbreak for 18-year-old welterweight Billy Joe Saunders who was well beaten 13-6 by world-class Cuban Carlos Banteaux and became the second British boxer to exit the competition.



Jeffries had blown a one-point lead with 15 seconds left on the clock to leave the scores locked together at 5-5 and force an examination of the five judges' cards for the total number of scoring punches.



And the 25-year-old could hardly contain his relief at edging the verdict which takes him into the quarter-finals and a clash with Hungary's Imre Szello, whom he beat by a single point in the EU Championships in Poland in June.



Jeffries said: "I've only ever dreamed of winning an Olympic medal since I was six years old, and I'm so close now.



"You never know how the countback score is going to go and I was praying to God to let me win.



"There was a lot of pressure on me because the Olympics is the biggest sporting event going and it has been a long week for me. With the rest of the team doing so well that added to the pressure."



Jeffries conceded his win over Alvarez, twice a Pan-American champion, was a "horrible fight", in which he was never behind but unable to pull into a clear lead in a mauling and forgettable contest.



But he will shut that to the back of his mind ahead of his match against Szello next Tuesday evening, doubtless buoyed by the number of messages of support heading his way from back home.



Jeffries added: "It puts even more pressure on you when you're getting all these messages and you don't want to let anybody down. I've been getting hundreds of them and the support back home has been amazing."



Head coach Terry Edwards urged a heart-broken Saunders to look to the future after his defeat to Banteaux, insisting: "Billy Joe is awesome already. So he's going to be doubly awesome in 2012."



Saunders made an exceptional start to his senior career and muscled in on the Beijing Games, but the experience of his exceptional opponent ultimately proved too much.



Saunders fell three points behind at the end of the first round but clawed his way back to level with some fine right hands, only for the Cuban to sneak back in front 5-4 at the half-way stage.



The Cuban's accuracy helped him rebuild his lead in the third round and as Saunders desperately chased the shots to haul himself back into contention, the favourite began to pull away.



Saunders said: "The points didn't go for me today. In the last round I knew I wouldn't get the decision unless I knocked him out. The scoring here is so bad for an Olympic Games. It's unbelievable.



"I felt my performance was exceptional, but I've had better days. I felt I should have had six or seven points for my body shots, but they're not scoring body shots. You might as well do fencing, not boxing, if they're going to do that."



Irish light-heavyweight Kenneth Egan joined Jeffries in the last eight with a 10-2 win over Turkey's Bahram Muzaffer then hit back at recent critics of his country's boxing programme.

The knives were out for the Irish after returning from last November's World Championships in Chicago with just one Olympic qualifier before a late rush ensured a five-strong team for Beijing.



With his win extending Ireland's unbeaten boxing start at the Games to four bouts, Egan said: "It's a brilliant start to the team especially after what happened in Chicago last year.



"There were a lot of people talking bad about us, about how the training camp was a disaster and the high-performance programme was no good and there's too much training being done. It's all a load of rubbish.



"I'll go back to the team now with another win. There's a load of lads into the last eight or the last 16 and things are definitely on the up. There is pressure on me to get a medal now but I will just treat it as another fight."

Bradley Saunders never got to grips with an opponent whom he had beaten by 17 clear points at the World Championships nine months ago, sliding to an 11-7 defeat to Frenchman Alexis Vastine.

It was a dreadful performance from the Sedgefield fighter who had been strongly tipped to win a medal but was plainly struggling under the weight of expectation and never looked likely to turn the fight in his favour.



The counter-punching Vastine was making full use of his height and reach advantage and established a four-point lead by the half-way stage, which he extended to seven points after three.



Saunders did rally a little in the final round, landing a strong right hand and a sharp left, both of which briefly stopped the Frenchman in his tracks, but it was too little, too late for the pre-fight favourite.





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