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Iwakuma to lead Classic title defense

Meeting Korea for the fifth time, Japan hoping to repeat as champs

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LOS ANGELES -- The World Baseball Classic trophy will return to Asia for the second successive time in the tournament's brief history.

Japan hopes the hardware returns to its home country -- again.

On Monday at 9 p.m. ET, Japan (6-2) will defend its Classic title against Korea (6-2) in the 2009 World Baseball Classic championship game at Dodger Stadium.

"It's the game of the century," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. "Japan would like, as any team, to do the best we can. In terms of strategy in the game, that's something you can observe [Monday] when we play."

Japan will send right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma to the mound. Iwakuma is 1-1 with a 0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in three Classic games this year. Korea will counter with Jung Keun Bong, a one-time Major League pitcher and winner of 11 games last season in Korea. Bong is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in 13 2/3 innings in three Classic appearances this year, with both wins coming against Japan.

"What would make the difference between winning and losing, believe that you just have to play a good game," Hara said. "And that is the big goal of the Japanese team."

There will be few surprises in the contest between the two Asian powers.

The meeting marks the fifth time the two countries have faced each other in this Classic and the eighth time in Classic play dating back to the inaugural event in 2006.

Overall, Korea holds a 4-3 advantage in two Classics, although Japan defeated Korea in a single-elimination semifinal game three years ago on its way to the inaugural championship.

The teams split two games in Pool A at the Tokyo Dome and split two games at PETCO Park in the second round this year.

To get to the finals, Japan defeated USA, 9-4, in the semifinal on Sunday. Korea topped Venezuela, 10-2, in the semifinal on Saturday.

"I never thought it would come true, that we will be playing against them five times, the most times you could ever play a team," Hara said. "We were able to come up to the stage together. I really feel great respect for the Koreans for that."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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