Les Bleus Vs. The World: Tournament Pools, Opponents Announced

A busy next couple of months await the men and women of France’s various national teams, and while there are still some yet-to-be-determined details, other aspects of this year’s international tournaments are starting to come into focus.

Le Baseblog tries to break it all down, starting with the latest on a never-before-held event that kicks off less than three weeks from now, in Lithuania.

European Baseball5 Championship (Feb. 28-March 1)

For the first time ever, the region’s best Baseball5 players will meet in a continent-wide tournament to not only crown the sport’s first European champion, but also select a pair of qualifying teams for the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup, to take place in December.

Both tournaments are being organized and sponsored by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), which introduced Baseball5 — a codified version of a street game developed in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean — less than three years ago.

The European Championship begins Feb. 28 in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and will feature the national teams from 16 different European countries, including France.

The other participating nations are host Lithuania, Moldavia, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belarus, Italy, Israel, Russia, Romania, Latvia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

The teams will be divided into four pools. Each squad will have a chance to play the other pool members once, with the top two teams from each group advancing to a knockout stage.

France will be in Group D, together with Lithuania, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, the French Baseball & Softball Federation (FFBS) announced on Feb. 8.

Earlier in the week, the FFBS revealed the names of the eight French players — four men and four women — making the trip to Vilnius (see below). And as Elliot Fleys, the Federation’s Baseball5 point man, noted in a recent Twitter post, the average age of the group is just 19.

The team is “young, dynamic and mixte (co-ed),” he wrote.

The great eight!

World Baseball Classic Qualifiers (March 12-17)

For fans of French baseball, the year’s must-see event begins sooner rather than later — in just over a month — and will take place under the desert sun of Tucson, Arizona.

That’s where former MLB player and manger Bruce Bochy, winner of three World Series as skipper of the SF Giants, will try to lead Les Bleus to their first-ever World Baseball Classic (WBC) berth.

Held every four years, the WBC is the world’s premier international baseball event, and for the next edition — in March 2021 — the field will be expanded from 16 to 20 teams. France would, of course, love to be one of those 20 teams, but will first have to get through a field of fellow contenders that includes Germany and South Africa, among others.

What’s not yet clear is who exactly will play for Team France. But the WBSC has revealed which countries will participate in the qualifiers and when. In total, a dozen teams — divided into two groups — will compete, with the top two teams from each group advancing to next year’s WBC.

France is in Group 1, with games taking place between March 12-17. Also in the pool are the national teams of Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa, Nicaragua and Germany.

Kino Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Arizona, where the qualifiers begin next month

On the first day of action (March 12), France will play Germany. The winner will play South Africa the following day. If France loses to Germany, it will play either Nicaragua, Pakistan or Brazil on March 14, a Saturday.

Click here to see how the rather complicated schedule works.

Group 2 will play its games shortly afterwards, from March 20-25, and features the Czech Republic, Great Britain, New Zealand, Panama, Philippines and Spain.

European Women’s Softball Championship (June 7-13)

Just before the official start of summer, Europe’s best female softballers head to Friuli, in northeastern Italy, for the 2020 European Women’s Softball Championship. And as the FFBS recently announced, the top eight teams — a group that includes France — automatically qualify for the second-round of tournament play.

The French national team is currently ranked 25th in the world, according to the WBSC, and will be grouped for the Friuli tournament with Greece, Great Britain and the Netherlands, plus two yet-to-be-determined teams. The Dutch women are ranked 9th in the world, tops among European teams. Great Britain is 13th.

The tournament’s other second-round group will feature Spain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Italy plus two additional qualifying teams. Italy is ranked 10th in the world (just behind the Netherlands). The Czech Republic and Ireland are ranked 12th and 17th respectively.

European Men’s Softball Championship (June 22-27)

Speaking of the Czech Republic… Just nine days after the women’s tournament wraps up, the continent’s best male players will gather for their own European Softball Championship to be held in the small, market town of Ledenice, in the south of the Czech Republic.

The tournament will have special significance for France, which hasn’t fielded a national men’s softball team for years and only announced its return to international competition a few days ago.

The new French men’s team will be skippered by Anthony Cros, who has a longtime connection to the Montpellier Barracudas baseball & softball organization and played professional baseball, earlier in his career, in Canada. After transitioning to softball, Cros helped the Barracudas win back-to-back-to-back national titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

New men’s team manager Anthony Cross (Credit: FFBS/Arnaud Lenoir)

The European Championship in Ledenice will feature 12 teams divided into two groups. France will be in Group A along with the host team (the Czechs), Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and Sweden. The national teams of the Netherlands, Denmark, Israel, Croatia, Slovakia and Lithuania will compete in Group B.

Given that it didn’t even have a national men’s team last year, France is currently unranked. Among European teams, the Czech Republic has the top-ranked group (7th), followed by Denmark (11th) and the Netherlands (16th).

Et voila! Let the games begin.

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