Monday, March 20, 2006
Today, at 9:00 PM EST, Japan and Cuba will face off in the World Baseball Classic final. The matchup will take place in PETCO Park, San Diego California. Coaches Higinio Velez of Cuba and Sadaharu Oh of Japan highly praised both teams. "We know the Asians," Velez said. "We have played against the Asians, we know how the Asian teams play, and they're great players. They put everything into the field, great effort, very similar to Latin American players. They play hard, they have their tactics, they have their technique, and all I can say is that you will have a wonderful game [Monday]." Cuba has a record of 5-1 against Japan at the Summer Olympics.
Cuba defeated a MLB player-filled team from the Dominican Republic 3-1 to earn this berth to the finals. Vicyohandri Odelin has been rumored to be the starter for Cuba tonight. Cuba has no MLB players, whereas the Japanese team has two—Ichiro Suzuki and Akinori Otsuka. Cuba has earned a medal at each Olympiad, taking the gold in 1992, 1996, 2004 and the silver in 2000. Before the World Baseball Classic even began, Cuba was at risk of not being able to attend, due to tension between the US and Cuba. However, Cuba has gone all the way with a 5-2 record, knocking out Panama, the Netherlands, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic in the semifinal.
Japan barely made it into the semifinals through a complicated tiebreaking process, and managed to defeat an undefeated South Korean team that had beaten them twice before with a shutout, 6-0. A two-run homer by young Kosuke Fukodome sealed the game. Led by their powerful coach, Sadaharu Oh, Japan was favored as the major Asian power, but instead struggled through qualification with a 3-3 record. They ravaged Taiwan, China, and Mexico, but failed to overcome the United States or Korea. Ichiro Suzuki has led this team into the finals with a .345 average, one homer, and four stolen bases.
== Sources ==
Alyson Footer. "Cuba prepared to cap off amazing ride" — MLB.com, March 19, 2006
Mike Bauman. "Cuba, Japan surprise Classic finalists" — MLB.com, March 19, 2006
Barry M. Bloom. "Japan poised for Cuba's challenge" — MLB.com, March 19, 2006
John Nadel. "Japan 6, South Korea 0" — Yahoo Sports, March 19, 2006
Janie McCauley. "Cuba 3, Dominican Republic 1" — Yahoo Sports, March 18, 2006
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