HAVANA (AP) -Cuba plans to play in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and, no surprise, considers itself a favorite to win the tournament.
``We have said we are going to participate,'' Jose Ramon Fernandez, the island's top sports official, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. ``It's been authorized.''
In 2006, Cuba reached the championship game of the initial WBC, losing to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ichiro Suzuki and Japan 10-6 in San Diego.
``With the same players and other better ones than those who were there, are we in crisis? Please,'' Fernandez scoffed. ``Today we don't just have one team for the Classic, we have more than that.''
Fernandez, a Cuban vice president and head of the Olympic Committee, praised Major League Baseball for engaging in ``a respectful and proper dialogue and looking for solutions for both sides'' when it looked as if an embargo might keep the country out of last year's tournament.
Cuba almost was barred from participating when the U.S. Treasury Department initially denied it a permit.
An appeal by MLB and a promise by Cuba that winnings would go to Hurricane Katrina relief - thus ensuring no money went to Fidel Castro's government - successfully reversed that decision.
MLB and its players' union jointly ran the inaugural WBC. While no formal decision has been announced, it appears the second WBC will be played in March 2009.
Fernandez said in October that Cuba had received a formal WBC invitation from MLB, but did not say whether the island planned to play.
In November, the United States beat Cuba 6-3 in Taiwan to win baseball's World Cup for the first time since 1974, ending the island's streak of nine straight titles.
``I don't have the slightest doubt about Cuban talent, no doubt about the quality of Cuban baseball,'' Fernandez said.
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