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XVII Women's Softball World Cup 2023 - Group B - Official Payoff

XVII Women’s Softball World Cup - Group B Preview: Tight battle for a spot in the Finals

XVII Women’s Softball World Cup - Group B Preview: Tight battle for a spot in the Finals
07/07/2023
World No. 4 Puerto Rico and No. 10 Netherlands appear as the main contenders, with No. 11 China, No. 12 Spain, No. 28 Cuba and No. 38 South Africa also in the mix.

When the WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup Group B opens in Valencia, Spain, on 18 July, all six teams will have string aspirations to advance to the Finals next year. However, world No. 4 Puerto Rico and No. 10 Netherlands appear as the main contenders, with No. 11 China, No. 12 Spain and No. 28 Cuba looking to defy them on the diamond. African champions and No. 38 South Africa also aim to surprise in their quest to make the top-eight of the Women’s Softball World Cup for the first time.

PUERTO RICO

  • WSWC Appearances: 10
  • Highest finish: 5th (1986 and 2018)
  • 2018 finish: 5th
  • World Ranking: 4

Coming off their best performance in 2018 (which included an impressive 6-5 win over other Group B favourites the Netherlands), Puerto Rico look like the team to beat in Group B. A set of experienced stars led by Aleshia Ocasio, Taran Alvelo and Karla Claudio is joined by some fresh blood like Tatyana Roman, to create an interesting mix in their roster.

However, they didn’t have an easy continental qualifier, advancing to the World Cup as fourth place in the Americas, behind USA, Canada and Group B rivals Cuba.

If the pitching staff and the lineup live up to expectations, Puerto Rico will be in contention on 22 July, when the two teams advancing to the Finals in 2024 are decided.

Puerto Rico is currently participating in the Central American and Caribbean Games San Salvador 2023 and will play Cuba in the final on Friday, having beaten their Group B opponents 4-1 in pool play on Thursday. 

NETHERLANDS

  • WSWC Appearances: 14
  • Highest finish: 4th (2016)
  • 2018 finish: 8th
  • World Ranking: 10

After making the top eight in the last five World Cups, including a highest-ever fourth place in 2016, Netherlands is a firm candidate to clinch one of the two spots on the line for next year's Finals. The reigning European champions posted a 9-1 record in the continental event to reclaim the title last year.

Eva Voortman from the circle and Britt Vonk from the top of the lineup will be the catalysts for a team that clearly has potential to qualify for the Finals. If they can win on Day 1 against Cuba, they will put themselves in a great position to make the playoffs.

After some warm up wins over Chinese Taipei, the Czech Republic and Australia in Prague earlier this month, the Netherlands look to be on track.

CHINA

  • WSWC Appearances: 11
  • Highest finish: 2nd (1986 and 1994)
  • 2018 finish: 10th
  • World Ranking: 11

In Chiba 2018, China ended up outside the top-eight for the first time in their 11 appearances in the World Cup, and one year later they missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. So they will make the trip to Valencia not only aiming advance to the Finals, but recover their prestigious place in the elite of women’s softball.

To do that, they must defy recent form and lack of recent international play and beat their Group B opponents, especially Puerto Rico and Netherlands - who made the playoffs in 2018 - and grab one of the two available spots. "Our target is to finish as top two and secure a ticket to the World Cup Finals next year," head coach Tang Changdong said.

They had a good qualifier in Asia, taking the silver medal after a convincing victory over world No. 3 Chinese Taipei in the semifinals, 11-1. They lost the gold medal game against Asian superpower Japan, 6-0.

SPAIN

  • WSWC Appearances: 1
  • Highest finish: 20th (1994)
  • 2018 finish: n/a
  • Ranking: 12

Spain will be the 12th nation to host the WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup (alongside the other first time hosts this year in Ireland and Italy), playing in Valencia as the venue of Group B.

With the support of the home crowd, Spain’s first goal is likely to be to qualify for the playoffs, and then stun some of the powerhouses of the group in a head-to-head matchup on 22 July to entertain any ideas of advancing to next year's Finals.

Spain count on Anyibel Ramirez as their main weapon from the circle. Born in Venezuela, she represented the South American country in three World Cups: Caracas 2010, Whitehorse 2012 and Surrey 2016. 

CUBA

  • WSWC Appearances: 5
  • Highest finish: 9th (1990, 2010 and 2014)
  • 2018 finish: n/a
  • Ranking: 28

The intriguing Cuban team appear as one of the candidates to make Group B’s playoffs, in spite of their low ranking. In the Americas qualifier they grabbed the bronze medal and sent a message to the softball world that Cuba aim to advance to the top-eight for the first time.

They rely on a veteran pitching staff, commanded by lefty Yilian Tornes, who is leading the Cuban team at the Central American and Caribbean Games San Salvador 2023, where Cuba has reached the final on Friday against Puerto Rico, having lost to the same opponents 4-1 in pool play on Thursday. 

SOUTH AFRICA

  • WSWC Appearances: 7
  • Highest finish: 10th (1974)
  • 2018 finish: 15th
  • Ranking: 38

South Africa made their debut in 1974 with their best performance so far in the tournament, finishing in 10th place. From 1998 to 2012, they played five consecutive World Cups, their longest streak in the tournament, finishing 15th four times in this span. 

After six years of absence, South Africa returned to the World Cup in 2018, and unsurprisingly they finished 15th, tied with African rivals Botswana with a 0-8 record.

The lowest ranked team in the group, South Africa, who qualified by finishing in the top two of the Africa qualifier along with Botswana, need to bring their A game if they want to compete for one of the two spots in the Finals.