(ATTN: FIXES venue in para 5; ADDS S. Korean schedule in paras 8-10)
SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea, the last Olympic baseball champion, will take on Cuba, Australia and Canada in an upcoming qualifying tournament for next year's Summer Games.
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) announced the locations and groups for the Nov. 2-17 Premier 12 tournament following a draw in Mexico City on Wednesday (local time).
The tournament will feature the top 12 countries in the world rankings. And South Korea, world No. 3, will host Cuba (No. 5), Australia (No. 7) and Canada (No. 10) in Group C at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. South Korea won the inaugural Premier 12 in 2015.
Group A features No. 2 USA, No. 6 Mexico, No. 8 Netherlands and No. 12 Dominican Republic. Their games will be played in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In Group B, world No. 1 and Olympic host Japan will face Chinese Taipei (No. 4), No. 9 Venezuela and No. 11 Puerto Rico in Taichung, Chinese Taipei.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the six-team Super Round, to be played at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba and Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, both in Japan. The iconic dome stadium in the Japanese capital will also host the championship final.
The Premier 12 is the first qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where baseball will make its return after an eight-year absence. South Korea won the most recent Olympic baseball gold in Beijing in 2008, with longtime skipper Kim Kyung-moon as the manager. In January, South Korea brought Kim back to the national team managerial post.
Kim will travel to Japan on Feb. 22 to check in on a half-dozen Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) teams in spring training there. Then on March 9 and 10, he will attend exhibition games between Japan and Mexico in Osaka, Japan.
South Korea will try to schedule its own exhibition games prior to the Premier 12. The KBO had planned to host a country from Group B, whose games will be held in Chinese Taipei.
The KBO doesn't expect Chinese Taipei to leave home to play pre-Premier 12 games here, and that leaves Japan, Venezuela and Puerto Rico as potential opponents for South Korea in the buildup to the tournament.
Baseball at Tokyo 2020 will feature six nations. The WBSC said the top finisher from the Americas and the top country from the Asia/Oceania region, excluding Olympic host Japan, will earn direct entries into Tokyo 2020.
The WBSC Executive Board recently decided that if no team from Asia or Oceania finishes among the top six of the Premier 12, that Olympic slot shall be deferred to the last Olympic Qualifier.
The WBSC will organize separate qualifiers for Africa/Europe and the Americas. Its intercontinental qualifier, featuring six teams, will be the final opportunity for countries to book their spots at Tokyo 2020. The participants in that one will be the runner-up from the Africa/Europe qualifier, the second- and third-place finishers from the Americas qualifier, the two best finishers from the 2019 Asian Championship that haven't already qualified for the Olympics and the winner of the Oceania qualifier.