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Underdog Israel defies all odds defeating Cuba 4-1 in World Baseball Classic

Israel's baseball team celebrate their victory against the Netherlands after their first round game of the World Baseball Classic at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on March 9, 2017
JUNG Yeon-Je (AFP/File)
Undefeated Israel will face The Netherlands on Monday for a chance to secure a spot in the semifinal group

Underdogs Israel have once again defied the odds with another surprising victory at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), this time with a shock 4-1 defeat of baseball heavyweights Cuba in the tournament's quarterfinal group.

Israel, which entered the tournament ranked 41st in the world, remains undefeated in its first ever appearance at the WBC, following a fairy-tale start that saw a string of unlikely victories against third-ranked South Korea, fourth-ranked Taiwan, and ninth-ranked Netherlands.

Israel will again face The Netherlands on Monday for a chance to book their place in the semifinal group, followed by Japan on Wednesday.

Cuba seemed to have grabbed an upper hand when Alfredo Despaigne nailed a home run in the top of the second inning.

But Israel's Ryan Lavarnway equalized in the fourth inning with a double, before Zach Borenstein's single on the bottom in the sixth inning made it 2-1.

It was quickly followed by Blake Gailen, who fired a double to make it 3-1. Gailen hit a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth to seal Israel's victory.

JUNG Yeon-Je (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his congratulations to the national team, tweeting: "Congratulations to Israel's national baseball team on a great achievement!"

The nation's unexpected efforts have surprised baseball fans around the world and at home where the sport is played by only around 1,000 people.

"In the United States we have become the darling of the WBC," Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) secretary general Margo Sugarman told AFP.

"We are doing things that literally the whole world is talking about."

Israel's team is stacked with Jewish US-born professional players. The tournament's rules say that a player may compete for a country if he is eligible to hold a passport under its laws, opening Israel to a pool of American major-league players eligible for automatic citizenship as Jews.

Only two of the team are actually Israeli citizens, with Jewish former major league stars like Ike Davis joining those from minor leagues.

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- Mensch on the Bench -

Sugarman admitted there have been "some nasty comments," but is quick to rubbish the notion that it is an American team -- pointing out many other teams also have Americans of various descents.

Emphasizing the team's Jewish identity is the Mensch on the Bench mascot -- a smiling life-size doll of an Orthodox Jew.

It has, Sugarman said, become more "famous than any single player, which is good as they are a team."

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

Sugarman is quick to admit the country's interest in the game is still in its early stages.The IAB has been up and running for three decades, but Israel only attempted to send a team to the WBC the previous time it took place four years ago, narrowly missing the ticket.

While there has been a lot of Israeli newspaper coverage, the success has hardly caused a frenzy.

The tournament isn't even shown on Israeli television.

Two of four teams will advance from first-round pools in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Guadalajara, Mexico, into second-round play at Tokyo and San Diego that will determine the four semi-finalists who play March 20-21 in Los Angeles.

(Staff with AFP)

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