|Can Japan defend its title in the WBC? Qualifying rounds for the 2013 tournament begin this week. (Getty Images)|
For all the criticism surrounding its timing and suspect "dedication to the cause" of certain players, the World Baseball Classic is pretty cool. So it's worth noting that qualifying-round play begins this week.
In Jupiter, Fla., France, Israel, South Africa and Spain will match wits and skills, and across the way in the German town of Regensburg, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Great Britain will do the same. The final two qualifying rounds will take place next month in Panama City, Panama (Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama) and Taipei, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand). The winner of each qualifying pool will advance to the primary World Baseball Classic, which goes down next March.
Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela will each receive automatic berths in the main tournament because of their performances in 2009. Japan has won the first two WBCs.