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Rain postpones opening of Baseball World Cup

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Rain delayed opening game of the 37th Baseball World Cup as Cuba looked to clinch its 10th-straight title.

Taiwan had been scheduled to take on Italy Tuesday afternoon at the Tienmu Stadium in Taipei, but the game has been postponed until Monday, the Chinese-Taipei Baseball Association said.

The tournament is now to begin Wednesday with Spain battling Panama, South Africa taking on Japan and Mexico looking for a win over the United States. Those games are to be played in two stadiums in Taichung in central Taiwan.

Sixteen teams are competing in the World Cup, which is to run through Nov. 18.

Analysts said Cuba, the winner of 25 World Cup titles, is the favorite but faces a challenge from the strong U.S. team.

“The U.S. did not perform well in World Cup games in recent years, so it wants to reconfirm its position as the world’s leading baseball nation,” baseball coach and commentator Feng Sheng-hsien said.

Other favorites in the tournament are Venezuela, a three-time World Cup winner, and the Netherlands, which lost to Cuba to win silver in the 16th Intercontinental Baseball Cup in November 2006.

Japan, the strongest baseball nation in Asia, is not expected to pose much of a threat in Taiwan because its team is made up of amateurs and college players.

The World Cup was also expected to be a learning experience for first timer Thailand, which joined the tournament after China withdrew, saying it has to attend an international game in Japan.

The 16 teams are divided into two groups with Group A consisting of the hosts as well as the United States, Japan, Panama, Mexico, Italy, South Africa and Spain. Group B is made up of Cuba, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Germany and Thailand.

The games are to be played in Taipei and Taichung with the quarter-finals scheduled for Nov. 16 ahead of the Nov. 18 final in Tienmu Stadium.

Baseball is played mostly in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and parts of Latin America.

The Philippines has also competed in international baseball games, and China is catching up by hiring Taiwan coaches to train its baseball players.

Baseball is the national sport in Japan and Taiwan and is also a popular sport in South Korea.

About 5,000 Japanese and South Korean fans were expected in Taiwan to cheer on their national teams.

The World Cup was launched in 1938 by the Laussane-based International Baseball Federation.

After its latest edition is completed, Taiwan is to host the Asian Olympic qualifying games December 1-3 to select a team to represent the continent in the August Games in Beijing.

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