SAN FRANCISCO -- Two-time defending champion Japan and Cuba will face off in the first round of pool play in next year's World Baseball Classic. Home-field advantage: Japan.
Japan will host first and second rounds of pool play at two sites in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which features a new qualifying format rather than the invitation-only system of the first two events.
The top 12 nations from the last WBC were already in, then the other four determined from 28 teams through qualifying. The WBC winner will be named world champion for the first time.
The first-round games for Pool A will be held in Fukuoka from March 2-6 with Japan, China, Cuba and a qualifier to be determined. The second round moves to the Tokyo Dome.
"Cuba was a good fit in Japan," WBC president Paul Archey said. "We have more games in Asia. Somebody is going to have to go to Asia and play."
The WBC announced its venues and pools Tuesday outside the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park, which will host the semifinals and championship game in the event's third run. Two more qualifying teams are still to be determined in November, with rosters scheduled to be announced Dec. 3 at the baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Players will be subject to drug testing by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
San Juan, Puerto Rico, will host games for the third time at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Those games will be played March 7-10 featuring Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and a qualifier.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field and the club's shared Scottsdale spring training facility with the Rockies, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, hosts Pool D games between the U.S., Italy, Mexico and a qualifier.
"It would help to have the U.S. in the final game, which he haven't had yet," Archey said.
Taichung, Taiwan, will stage the event for the first time. Those games at Intercontinental Stadium will be in Pool B from Mary 2-5, featuring Australia, Korea, the Netherlands and a qualifier.
Two qualifying nations were determined in recent days, though they are yet to be placed in a pool because the WBC must learn the other two participants and then seed all four qualifiers for the best competitive balance. Spain earned a spot by beating Israel in extra innings Sunday in Jupiter, Fla., while Canada defeated Germany on Monday to secure a place in the tournament.
Still in contention to reach the 16-team pool for March are Panama, Colombia, Nicaragua and Brazil in one qualifying tournament, and Taiwan, the Philippines, New Zealand and Thailand.
The inaugural 2006 Classic featured a pool play format, while 2009 was double-elimination -- and the next one will be a combination of both. The first round will be pool play, with the top two teams advancing. The second round is double-elimination, and the top two teams will reach the semifinals.
Riccardo Fraccari, president of the International Baseball Federation, announced the WBC winner will now be crowned world champion -- a title that in the past was determined through World Cup play.
Giants CEO Larry Baer said his franchise had twice tried to become a WBC host for the final two rounds. San Diego hosted the first WBC and then Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium in '09.
"They really put a great package together and showed a passion for getting it and a lot of energy, so their efforts were rewarded," Archey said. "It's a great city. It's an international city. They've obviously had a tremendous amount of success filling this ballpark and on the baseball field since the last Classic. That just made a great fit."
The World Baseball Classic "reflects the international flavor of our city in many ways," said Mayor Ed Lee, who hopes for an economic impact of more than $100 million.
A huge blue World Baseball Classic poster hangs from AT&T Park outside along the right field area.
"I must say the WBC sign makes the stadium look pretty," said Felipe Alou, former San Francisco skipper who managed the Dominican WBC team in 2009. "It also makes our beautiful stadium look prettier. I'm 100 percent for the World Classic. ... I'm pretty sure the third Classic is going to be even better than the second Classic. I'm with this until the end."