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Japan sets up US showdown

DEFENDING World Baseball Classic champion Japan knocked off South Korea 6-2 on Thursday to claim a top seeding for this weekend's semifinals.

Japan will take on the United States on Sunday night in Dodger Stadium, while Korea faces Venezuela today. The winners meet for the title at the same venue on Monday.

In Thursday's tune up, Akinori Iwamura finished 2-for-4 and added an RBI single that led to another score on an outfield error during Japan's three-run eighth inning that broke a 2-2 tie.

Pinch-hitter Michihiro Ogasawara had the go-ahead single in the inning and was 2-for-2.

"That was a tense moment," Ogasawara told reporters. "The opportunity was right there and I walked right into it. I was tenacious and I was able to produce something in that at-bat."

In the fourth meeting between the teams in the competition, Korea starter Wonsam Jang allowed two runs (one earned) in three innings.

Korea's Bum Ho Lee tied the contest with a solo home run to center field in the seventh but the team's relief could not hold off Japan.

It took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning that was wiped out by a Seiichi Uchikawa solo homer and Yasuyuki Kataoka's RBI single in the second.

Japan clinched a berth in the semifinals by beating Cuba 5-0 on Wednesday and it will be looking to win a second straight title with Boston Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka likely to start against USA's Jake Peavy.

"I have a great respect for American baseball," said Japan manager Tatsunori Hara. "Here is a great opportunity right in front of me. I'm so excited about that."


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