SYDNEY (AP) The first of four regional qualifiers for next year's World Baseball Classic begins Thursday with host team Australia aiming to advance to the final 16 and improve on its poor record in past tournaments.

South Africa plays New Zealand in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Blacktown in western Sydney to open the four-team qualifying tournament. Former Boston Red Sox coach and scout John Deeble leads Australia into its night game against the Philippines, with the final scheduled for Sunday.

Australia, managed by Deeble, has a 1-8 record in three previous World Baseball Classic tournaments, its only win coming in 2009 against Mexico. Its 28-man roster features nine players affiliated with Major League Baseball clubs.

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Former big league infielder Chris Woodward, who was a coach for New Zealand in its unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2013 tournament, will manage the team this time around. Tim Hulett, manager of Class A Spokane in the Texas Rangers' organization, will manage the Philippines.

South Africa will be skippered by Alan Phillips, who was the bench coach during the 2013 qualifier and a pitcher for the team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Other WBC qualifying tournaments will be held from March 17-20 in Mexicali, Mexico (Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico and Nicaragua) and Panama City, Panama (Colombia, France, Panama and Spain); and from Sept. 22-25 in Brooklyn, New York (Brazil, Britain, Israel and Pakistan).

Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Spain finished last in their respective pools in 2013, forcing them to requalify.

Qualifiers will join Canada, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and Venezuela in next year's tournament. It is expected to be held in March 2017, although a host country or countries have not been announced.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 title, beating Puerto Rico 3-0 in San Francisco in March 2013.