The World Baseball Classic finally released its pool selections for the four qualifying teams a couple days ago, ending a week’s (or in some cases, two months’) speculation as to the placement of the final four countries. As predicted in Extra Innings’ column a week on Nov. 29, Brazil will head to Japan, Taiwan will host Pool B, Spain will join three of its former colonies, and Canada will cross the border for a mostly North American group.
The second pool was an obvious selection, but the other three certainly involved some deliberation. Canada exerts some influence in the international baseball community and no doubt expressed its desire for a grouping less likely to result in their demise. Pool D is not the most difficult of the groups, but Mexico (No. 11 in the newest IBAF rankings) and Italy (No. 9, and winners of the European Championship earlier this year) will both stand good chances of unseating the United States (No. 2) and Canada (No. 5).
It would appear from rumblings in the Latin American press that the winner of the Panamá City bracket had been selected to go to Puerto Rico, but the stunning victory by Brazil appears to have caused a last-minute change. Instead, they will travel to Fukuoka and play Cuba (No. 1) and Japan (No. 3), both of whom have strong cultural and sporting connections to Brazil (No. 20). China rounds out the field and is rated at No. 19, but will likely move up one spot when the post-Asian Baseball Championship (ABC) rankings are revealed next week.
Chinese Taipei is the most likely qualifying team to win their pool in March. They moved into seventh place in the world rankings with a dominant performance in November’s WBC qualifier and have maintained a torrid pace in the ABCs this week. In a WBC preview, Taiwan crushed No. 4 South Korea at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City. A nailbiting 2-1 loss to a mostly amateur Japanese side was the only defeat for Taiwan in five tries.
The performance will likely vault Chinese Taipei another three places in the IBAF charts. The Netherlands (No. 6) and Australia (No. 10) will hope to stop them, while Korea will certainly be looking for revenge.
The third pool has a very similar feel to the qualifier in Panamá City. The group has no clear favourite, though Spain (No. 16) takes Brazil’s place as the underdog. They will contest Venezuela (No. 8), Puerto Rico (No. 12), and the Dominican Republic (No. 13) in what should be an extremely exciting bracket.