Israel stun South Korea in World Baseball Classic opener

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South Korean slugger Park Byeong-Ho hits a three-run homer during the final of the Premier 12 baseball tournament in Tokyo on November 21, 2015

Israel stunned co-hosts South Korea 2-1 in an extra-innings nailbiter as the World Baseball Classic got underway in thrilling fashion on Monday.

Scott Burcham's infield single at the top of the 10th broke South Korean hearts and delivered a huge upset at the start of the 16-team tournament, spread across four countries.

Qualifiers Israel, stacked with US-born professional players, held their nerve at Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome after the teams were all square at one after nine innings.

Pitcher Chang Won-Jun had walked Tyler Krieger in the second to put Israel ahead, before Seo Geon-Chang drove to left field to take South Korea level in the fifth.

As tensions mounted in the 10th, Burcham singled on a ground ball to second baseman Seo, allowing Israel to go 2-1 in front and leave South Korea staring at defeat.

Josh Zeid, Israel's sixth pitcher, then threw his third shut-out inning to complete an embarrassing loss for the 2009 finalists in front of a home crowd of more than 15,000.

The surprise win for Israel, 38 spots below third-placed South Korea in the world rankings, boosts their chances of surviving a group which also includes Taiwan and the Netherlands.

Japan, who are two-time winners, and Mexico are also hosting pools of four teams, along with the United States -- who are looking for their first Classic title.

Japan play their first game against fellow heavyweight Cuba on Tuesday, opening a pool which also brackets China and Australia.

Two of four teams advance from first-round pools in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Guadalajara, Mexico, into second-round play at Tokyo and San Diego that will determine the four semi-finalists who play March 20-21 in Los Angeles.

Sixty-three former Major League Baseball all-stars, including 25 from last season, are involved, although many MLB players are missing.

Baseball's birthplace, the United States, have never won the Classic, hurt by the unwillingness of many clubs to part with top players during pre-season workouts.

South Korea, who rang alarm bells in a defeat to a domestic minor league club in a warm-up last week, will now have to recover quickly in Tuesday's game against the Netherlands.