Managers participating in a continental baseball club championship here predicted on Wednesday a South Korea-Japan final for the regional bragging rights.
On the eve of the Asia Series, to be held here in Busan from Thursday to Sunday, managers of the six clubs in action said representatives from the host country and its long-time rival will likely clash for the title.
The Asia Series will pit six clubs from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Australia against each other.
South Korea's Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will have the 2012 champions, Samsung Lions, plus the Busan-based Lotte Giants.
The Lions are the reigning Asia Series champions. Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), whose teams had won the Asia Series every year until 2011, is represented by the Yomiuri Giants.
The Perth Heat is the Australian team as the champion of the Australian Baseball League (ABL). Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) has sent the Lamigo Monkeys, and the China Baseball League (CBL) will have an All-Star squad named the China Stars.
At a press conference held here, managers said they expect the Lions and the Yomiuri Giants to battle for the title.
The six teams have been divided into two groups of three, and after round-robin play over three days, the top clubs from the two groups will meet in the final on Sunday.
The Lions, the Stars and the Monkeys are in Group A. The Lotte Giants, the Yomiuri Giants and the Heat are paired in Group B.
Song Ping Shan, manager of the Stars, said China still lags behind its Northeast Asian rivals in baseball and his squad will take this Asia Series as a learning experience.
"I think the Korean and Japanese teams are better than the others," Song said through an interpreter. "It'd be great if our team could win it all, but we're not quite there yet."
Hong I Chung, who manages the Monkeys, said he came into the tournament knowing how strong KBO and NPB teams are.
"We're here to learn from them as much as we can," Hong said.
"I hope our players can grow by playing in these games."
The Monkeys upset the Lions 3-2 at the 2006 Asia Series. These two teams will meet again in their group stage on Friday. Hong said both teams have much different rosters in 2012 and that the Lions are a much better team this year.
"We don't have any specific strategy in that game other than to play hard," Hong said. "I hope to have a good result in the end."
The Lions' manager Ryu Joong-il said he wasn't yet ready to look ahead to the final, noting that he'd first have to get past the Monkeys and the Stars in the group stage.
"I think there's more parity in Asian baseball today," he said.
"Yomiuri is a strong team but I think the Monkeys are a dark horse this week. Obviously, our goal is to make the final, and a game against Yomiuri will be fascinating."
Tatsunori Hara, Yomiuri's manager, tried to temper expectations placed on his club, which is missing some key players from the Japan Series-winning roster.
"You never know what can happen in baseball," he said. "Our goals is to do our best and to be there at the end."
The Monkeys and the Stars will open the tournament at noon Thursday, followed by the tilt between the Lotte Giants and the Heat at 6 p.m.
From Thursday to Saturday, there will be two games each day, starting at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday's final is set to begin at 2 p.m.
The Asia Series began in 2005, pitting champions from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and either an All-Star team or the league champion from China against each other. Konami, a Japanese game company, sponsored the tournament from 2005 to 2008, but pulled out after 2008, citing declining interest.
In 2009, the KBO and the NPB held a single club championship match in Japan and the KBO, NPB and CPBL champions met in Taiwan the following year. These events were not called the Asia Series. (Yonhap News)