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World Baseball Classic expanding to 28 teams

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The World Baseball Classic will expand from 16 to 28 countries with the addition of a new qualifying round for the 2013 international competition, organizers said on Wednesday.

The new round of qualifying for the tournament, won by Japan both times it has been staged, will feature 16 teams divided into four pools of four teams each and include the four WBC teams from the 2009 tournament that did not win a game.

The countries invited to the qualifying round were Brazil, Canada, Taiwan, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Britain, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, South Africa, Spain and Thailand.

Already qualified based on the 2009 results are Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

"Growing the game of baseball around the globe is the primary objective of the World Baseball Classic," Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

"By expanding the competitive field of the 2013 tournament, we are demonstrating our commitment to this goal and reinforcing that the World Baseball Classic is the premier showcase of baseball around the globe."

Qualifying round games will take place in 2012 and the four pools will operate under a double-elimination format. Composition of the pools will be determined once the venues are selected.

Each pool winner will advance to the World Baseball Classic tournament, scheduled for March 2013. The event, featuring the top players from each country, will be held every four years after that.

(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Julian Linden; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)