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World Baseball Classic: Venezuela block the way for USA

The knockout stages are underway at the World Baseball Classic and USA face a quarter-final match-up with one of the teams of the tournament so far, Venezuela.

They topped their group by defeating the likes of Puerto Rico and pre-competition favourites Dominican Republic, while USA lost to Mexico and finished second in Pool C.

WhatUSA v Venezuela
WhereLoanDepot Park, Miami, Florida
When7PM ET, Saturday March 18
How to watchBT Sport1
OddsUSA -140, Venezuela +110

Unbeaten Venezuela so impressive

Only two teams are undefeated in the World Baseball Classic so far; two-time champions Japan and Venezuela, who have only made it to the semi-finals once, in 2009. That team featured Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu, Francisco Rodriguez, Endy Chavez, Felix Hernandez and Miguel Cabrera.

Now, 14 years later, Cabrera is captain of the Venezuelan team and he is about to embark on his final season in the Major Leagues. He has only played in two games of the classic so far, going 1-for-9, but what a way to finish playing for his country, if they were to reach a World Baseball Classic Final and go on and win it.

Venezuela opened up Pool D with an impressive 5-1 win over the Dominican Republic last Saturday and followed that up with another first-class performance on Sunday to beat Puerto Rico. They defeated Nicaragua and Israel to complete the group win.

Speaking to MLB.com, Venezuelan third baseman Eduardo Escobar said: "This is a dream. The most important thing, the key secret here, is that the egos were removed.

"No matter what position you play, the most important thing is that we are representing our country and we have one name on our chest, and that’s Venezuela."

Trout relishing electric atmosphere

Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder and USA leader of the clubhouse Mike Trout is taking part in his first World Baseball Classic, after missing the 2017 championship, and he is looking to make the most of this one.

The team captain is hitting .417 and has a homer and six RBI’s, looking like a man who is enjoying the competition through elimination baseball, something he hasn’t had with the Angels.

While it was a tight squeeze for the USA in their final group game against Colombia, they went hard at the Canadians in the previous game with nine runs in the bottom of the first inning.

This is something they may do against the Venezuelans to try and knock them out of their stride early in the game and fire up the home crowd and this is why USA are -170 to score the first run of the game.

Trout spoke to MLB.com following the win over Colombia and said: "I knew signing up the atmosphere was going to be electric. I talked to (Adam) Wainwright about this during the game against Canada. This is the funnest experience I’ve had on a baseball field, to represent your country. It’s been a blast."

Cuba and Japan already through

There are two sides already qualified for the semi-finals with Cuba edging Australia 4-3 in the Tokyo Dome and Japan beating Italy 9-3. The winner of USA v Venezuela will meet Cuba in the last four in Miami.

Japan await the winner of the other quarter-final between Puerto Rico and Mexico. This game promises to be an electric affair with supporters lighting up the venues that these two sides have performed at.

Mexico beat USA not only on the field, but in the stands as well and the elimination fixture between Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic was a sight to behold and makes the World Baseball Classic a special affair.

Puerto Rico came off that emotional win in which they clinched a place in the final eight hurt by the injury to Edwin Diaz in celebrating the win.

Diaz was diagnosed as suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee which means it’s likely he will miss the entire season for New York Mets.

Puerto Rico were losing finalists to the US in 2017, but they will have to see off a hugely determined Mexico side that has always threatened but never performed well at the World Baseball Classic.

Mexico took Pool C thanks to their win over the US and will send Julio Urias to the mound for the quarter-final match-up.

Puerto Rico are -105 to win the match, while the Mexicans are -125 to reach the semi-finals and face Japan in Miami.

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