South Korean players celebrate their 11-1 victory over Israel in the teams' second-round game at the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, on Monday. (Yonhap)
TOKYO -- Get your popcorn ready, or whatever the snack of your choice may be when watching exciting sporting events.
It will be South Korea versus Japan in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament Wednesday. The first pitch is at 7 p.m. at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
No matter how the game plays out, it will add a new chapter to one of the most intense rivalries in international sports.
Baseball is beloved in both countries. While Japan would like nothing more than to win the baseball gold medal on home soil, South Korea will be all hands on deck trying to spoil that bid.
South Korea is the defending Olympic gold medalist, though the title came 13 years ago in Beijing. South Korea beat Japan in the semifinals 6-2 that year and then got past Cuba 3-2 to complete a 9-0 run for the gold.
South Korea trounced Israel 11-1 in the first of two second-round games Monday to first book a spot in the semis. Japan joined South Korea that evening after rallying past the United States 7-6 in 10 innings.
In the convoluted, double elimination format, the loser of this game will still be alive. It will play in a repechage game, with the winner reaching the gold medal game.
Theoretically, South Korea and Japan could meet in both the semifinals and the gold medal game.
With the numbers inflated by the outburst against Israel, South Korea is leading the tournament in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.401), slugging percentage (.514), runs (23), hits (46), walks (15) and doubles (11). It is tied for the lead with Israel with five home runs. Captain Kim Hyun-soo is slugging .889 with five RBIs in four games.
The pitching staff has more than done its part, with the tournament-best 42 strikeouts in 34 innings. South Korean pitchers have held opponents to a .182 batting average, the lowest so far in the Olympics.
Japan has played one fewer game than South Korea with three. Hayato Sakamoto has an .857 slugging percentage and Tetsuto Yamada leads all players with three steals. (Yonhap)