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Final eight participants join defending champion Japan in ’09 WBC field

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The field for the next edition of the World Baseball Classic has been set.

The World Baseball Classic, Inc. (WBCI) announced on Tuesday that the final eight teams invited to participate in the tournament — Australia, Canada, China, Taiwan, Italy, Netherlands, Panama and South Africa — will round out the 16-team field for the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The initial invitations were given out in April 2007 to the eight teams — Cuba, Dominican Republic, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela — that advanced to the second round of the inaugural WBC in 2006.

The 16-team field was based on criteria such as strength of native player base, number of professional players and international rankings, among others.

“There has been significant improvement in the level of play internationally and indeed Major League Baseball ranks include even more players from across the world,” said Eugene Orza, the Major League Baseball Players Association’s chief operation officer, in a statement released by WBCI.

“The 16 teams selected best represent the breadth of quality play from around the globe which meets a key tournament objective, showing the world how far baseball has come internationally. If you liked the tournament last time around, wait ’til you see her this time.”

After being initially met with skepticism the first WBC was a success, garnering stronger attendance and ratings figures than expected.

Merchandise sales were also higher than expected, prompting Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci to report that “more merchandise was sold in the first round than organizers projected for the entire 17-day event.”

Japan, which was the only nation to finish with a batting average higher than .300 during the tournament, won the first WBC title by beating Cuba 10-6 in the final on March 21 at PETCO Park in San Diego.

Current Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, a member of the Seibu Lions at the time, was named tournament MVP, with Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and Chiba Lotte Marines catcher Tomoya Satozaki joining him on the All-WBC Team. Yomiuri Giants first baseman Lee Seung Yeop was also named to the all-tournament team.