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Korea confident ahead of WBC duels

EVEN without several top stars, South Korea is confident heading into the first round of the World Baseball Classic.

"We have no fear when we play Japan," South Korea manager Kim In-suk said in Tokyo yesterday. "Our players always get motivated when playing against Japan and South Korean baseball has improved a lot."

Japan may be the defending WBC champion, but given their recent track record in international baseball, the South Koreans won't be intimidated by their Asian rivals.

Many of the players on Korea's 2009 WBC roster were on the team that beat Japan twice at the Beijing Olympics before going on to defeat Cuba in the gold medal game.

South Korea and Japan are expected to progress from Pool A of the 16-nation tournament, which begins on Thursday at Tokyo Dome. China and Chinese Taipei are the other teams in the Tokyo round.

The top two teams advance to the second round, which will be played in the United States along with the final on March 23 in Los Angeles.

South Korea, which will play its first game on Friday against Chinese Taipei, beat Japan twice in the 2006 WBC but had to settle for third place.

Lee Seung-yeop was a standout in the 2006 WBC and the Olympics, but has decided to skip he event to prepare for the new season with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese league.

Outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians is the only major leaguer on South Korea's roster and will be called upon to fill the void left by Lee's absence. Choo had 14 homers, 66 RBI and a .309 batting average last season for the Indians.

"Being the only major league player, I do feel some pressure," said Choo. "But baseball is a team sport and everyone has to do his job."

Japan's squad features five major league players, including Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox. But Suzuki has struggled at the plate in a series of games leading up to the tournament.


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