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Japan, Netherlands, Israel, Cuba a loaded field

MLB.com

Once again, the road to the World Baseball Classic championship round runs through Japan.

Pool E, the first of the two groups of four countries to advance to the second round of WBC '17, was finalized early Friday morning. Japan, the winner of Pool B in the first round, will be joined by upstart Israel -- the winner of Pool A -- and Cuba and the Netherlands, the runners-up from its respective pools. The four teams will play a round-robin bracket with the top two teams moving on the championship round at Dodger Stadium.

Once again, the road to the World Baseball Classic championship round runs through Japan.

Pool E, the first of the two groups of four countries to advance to the second round of WBC '17, was finalized early Friday morning. Japan, the winner of Pool B in the first round, will be joined by upstart Israel -- the winner of Pool A -- and Cuba and the Netherlands, the runners-up from its respective pools. The four teams will play a round-robin bracket with the top two teams moving on the championship round at Dodger Stadium.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

The games will be played at Tokyo Dome for a second straight World Baseball Classic, and like four years ago, Japan -- which has won two World Baseball Classics and never failed to reach the semifinals -- will be among the teams, playing on its home field.

It's a strikingly similar pool to the 2013 World Baseball Classic, when Japan, Cuba, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei faced off for berths in the semifinals. (Japan and the Netherlands advanced.) Only Israel, which entered its first World Baseball Classic an underdog before sweeping Pool A, is different.

Pool E will begin play on Saturday, with Israel taking on Cuba at 10 p.m. ET. Japan and the Netherlands will follow in the second game on Sunday at 7 a.m. ET.

The pool features an interesting contrast between Japan and Cuba, two traditional international powerhouses that rely on players from Nippon Professional Baseball and the Serie Nacional, and Israel and the Netherlands, two newly-competitive countries on the international stage whose key players come from the Major and Minor Leagues.

Japan, despite missing stars like Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Ichiro Suzuki, continues to look like a championship contender. The team cruised into the second round a perfect 3-0, including an 11-6 win over Cuba. Leading the way on the mound are aces Tomoyuki Sugano and Ayumu Ishikawa, who allowed only one run apiece in wins over Australia and Cuba, respectively. Offensively, Japan has been paced by Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, who hit .364 with two home runs and five RBIs in the first round, and Nobuhiro Matsuda, who hit .545 with a homer and five RBIs of his own.

"We know that we are going to have tough games for the second round," manager Hiroki Kokubu said. "So I'm expecting all my players to be as hot as they are right now."

Video: AUS@CUB: Lahera K's Harman, seals Cuba's win

The depth of Cuba's national team has been hurt by defections, but that hasn't stopped the Cubans from advancing to the second round for a fourth straight World Baseball Classic. They'll be looking for revenge against Japan, which has twice eliminated them from the World Baseball Classic -- including in the 2006 championship game -- and the Netherlands, which knocked it out in 2013. Team cornerstones like Frederich Cepeda and Alfredo Despaigne, whose six home runs each are tied for the most in World Baseball Classic history, and youngsters like Yoelqui Cespedes, Yoenis' 19-year-old brother, will try to push Cuba through to the semifinals for the first time since '06.

"Team Cuba has always tried to have that same momentum, tried to keep the same emotion as the Cuban national team -- to keep playing, and always try to win the game," Despaigne said. "Our aim is nothing but winning."

Israel has been one of the stories of the tournament, entering the second round an undefeated 3-0 despite having never qualified for a World Baseball Classic until this year. Team Israel, mostly MLB-affiliated Jewish Americans, has earned its spot in Pool E. With 15-year MLB veteran starter Jason Marquis and closer Josh Zeid bookending big first-round wins over Korea and the Netherlands, respectively, and production up and down the lineup from hitters like Pool A MVP Ryan Lavarnway, Ike Davis and Nate Freiman, the Israelis will try to follow their formula all the way to the championship round.

Video: NED@ISR: Lavarnway on Israel's sweep of Pool A

"Our goal going into Tokyo is the same as our goal coming into Seoul, and that's to advance to the next round," Freiman said. "Coming into Seoul, saying we are coming into this pool and we want to advance, that might have struck some people as a little unlikely. But I think now, maybe a little bit less."

The Netherlands fell to Israel in its final game of the first round, but it has the most Major League star power of any team in Pool E. Its infield is among the best in the tournament, with All-Star Xander Bogaerts, Gold Glover Andrelton Simmons, and 20-home-run-hitters Didi Gregorius and Jonathan Schoop anchoring the lineup. Jurickson Profar also excelled in the first round, hitting .545 with a homer and a team-best 1.583 OPS. Former Major Leaguers Rick van den Hurk and Jair Jurrjens front the rotation.

Video: NED@ISR: Meulens on Netherlands' performance thusfar

"We played a good round," manager Hensley Meulens said. "We won the first two games. We're heading to Tokyo and we're going to have to play well to get to the finals."

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Israel, Cuba, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Japan