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Qualifiers set for expanded 2021 World Baseball Classic

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New York (AFP)

Qualifying tournaments for an expanded 2021 edition of the World Baseball Classic will be staged in the United States in March to decide the last two teams in the field.

Organizers announced Tuesday that the fifth edition of the global showdown involving Major League Baseball talent will feature a record 20 nations, four of them advancing from two double-elimination qualifying events at Tucson, Arizona.

Japan won the inaugural editions of the event in 2006 and 2009 with Dominican Republic capturing the 2013 title before the Americans took the 2017 crown.

The first six-team qualifier will be staged March 12-17 and feature South Africa, France, Germany, Nicaragua, Brazil and Pakistan.

The second qualifier will be March 20-25 and feature Britain, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Panama and Spain.

Qualifying tournament winners and runners-up will join the 16 teams from the 2017 field in next year's Classic.

That returning lineup includes the US squad, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The French team will be managed by three-time World Series champion manager Bruce Bochy, who retired from guiding the San Francisco Giants after the 2019 MLB campaign.

Bochy was born in 1955 at Landes de Bussac, France, where his US Army father was stationed.

"We are looking forward to seeing great players from around the world come together to play the game we all love," said Leonor Colon, senior director of international and domestic player operations for the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"Our hope is that many of these players will be inspired by the experience and will go on to represent their countries at the major league level one day soon."

Baseball will return to the Olympics in 2020 at Tokyo but MLB will not shut down to allow its top talent to participate. Olympic qualifiers so far include Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Israel with two spots to fill.

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