reland resumes rivalry with Scotland as one place is up for grabs in next year's ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup
Denmark and the Netherlands also ready for Europe U/19 Qualifier in Belfast
European champions Ireland and Scotland will resume their fierce rivalry over the coming week in Belfast, Ireland as they seek a place in next year's ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup when the European qualifying tournament begins on Monday.
Denmark, which played in the 1998 event in South Africa, and the Netherlands, which was at the 2000 event in Sri Lanka alongside Ireland, are the other two participants in the four-day event.
Contrary to the two previous tournaments when both Scotland and Ireland reached the main event, only the team finishing on top of the points table will qualify for the Malaysian edition that will be played from 17 February to 2 March.
When the one-team qualification format from Europe was last followed in 2001, Scotland came out on top to earn a place in the 2002 tournament in New Zealand.
Both Scotland and Ireland took part in the 2004 and 2006 ICC U/19 Cricket World Cups in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively when Europe had two places while, in the 1998 event in South Africa, Ireland qualified along with Denmark.
With all the teams making significant development progress over recent years, this year's European U/19 Qualifier is expected to provide thrilling and closely contested matches.
Ireland will have its nose ahead after sweeping the European titles - U/13, U/15, U17, U/19, U/21 and U/23 - last year. Additionally, the Irish team's performance in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies will surely have motivated the youngsters as well as illustrating what can be achieved.
Ireland coach Brían O'Rourke said the team had experience and felt its preparations have been good. He said: "Qualification for the next ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup early next year is the ultimate goal for the Ireland side.
"Several of this squad were part of the U/23 side which captured Ireland's first trophy of the season a couple of weeks ago.
"We have practiced together as a squad on many occasions over the winter months and the Leinster-based players in the squad have recently been invovled in tournaments in Newcastle and Malvern School near Birmingham in England so the preparation has been good," he said.
O'Rourke said his batsmen were in form and he hoped the youngsters would do themselves proud by qualifying for the Malaysia event.
"Paul Sterling is one of the many Irish batsmen currently in good form (he completed a hundred against Scotland in the U/23 tournament) along with Chris Dougherty, Graham McDonnell and James Hall.
"It should be an exciting week of cricket with the best young cricketers in Europe fighting it out to claim the solitary World Cup position on offer. We are hoping that the current crop of U/19 Irish cricketers will do us proud by playing some positive, entertaining cricket and match the performances of the senior Irish side earlier this year in the West Indies."
Ireland captain Greg Thompson is aware that this year's competition will be tough and wants to avoid any slip-ups so he can achieve his dream of leading his team in an ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup. He said: "It's not going to be easy as there is plenty of talent in the other teams so we know we have to play very well.
"Qualifying for the (ICC U/19 Cricket) World Cup is more difficult this time because there is only one place from Europe so we know we can't afford any slip-ups. I would love to make it to Malaysia as captain. I have been to two other World Cups in Asia so I am very keen to make it back there again," he added.
Thompson said he is thrilled with the ability in the team that has six spinners. "This time we have quite a young side. Many of our players are still U/17 but I am very excited by the talent we have and our aim is simple - we want to win all three games and make sure we qualify for the World Cup.
"We bat all the way down and in the squad we have six spinners as well as seamers so we have plenty of options. It has been proved in the past that spin bowling at this level has often been the difference so I think we are well equipped in that department."
Scotland's youngsters are sure to have been inspired by their senior's performance in the ICC World Cricket League Division One in Nairobi earlier this year where the side led by Craig Wright finished as losing finalists.
That result helped Scotland, along with tournament winners Kenya, to earn a ticket to the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa from 11 to 24 September.
Scotland coach Andy Tennant said the key to success in the Belfast tournament will be for his players to function as a unit. "We don't have superstars in the team and it is a strong collection of committed and budding youngsters. We have to function well as a unit and show team discipline," he said.
"It is the most important tournament for our youth development programme and we have been preparing for it for almost two years now. The commitment is there and the boys are ready to go out there and play, but the new qualification rule (with only one of the teams reaching Malaysia) has made it tougher for everyone.
"We have a friendly but fierce relationship with Ireland and we want to keep it that way. The Netherlands and Denmark are also good sides and to beat them we have to be consistent and disciplined."
Outsiders Denmark go into the tournament with a upbeat approach and coach Ajay Bobby Chawla has urged his players to stick to the basics. He said: "We are approaching the qualifiers with a very positive frame of mind. We are all ready to go and feel that we are in with a good shout to win the competition.
"We have to stick to the basics. We have to bowl in the right areas, take our catches and make sure we don't give our wickets away. We also need two or three of our senior players to perform in these games so we are in with a chance," said Chawla.
According to Chawla, captain Zishan Shah, who is an all-rounder, top-order batsman Rizwan Mahmood, middle-order batsman Lars Fleming and 16-year-old Suleman Arshad are the players to watch in the competition.
The Netherlands has not often justified its talent at this level in the past but under coach Roland Lefebvre, who captained his team in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 in South Africa, the Dutch could be a real threat in Belfast.
And with several players in the senior side retiring after this year's ICC Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean, this coming week represents a great opportunity for the next generation to put itself forward and follow in the footsteps of Alexei Kervezee, still a teenager but already a part of that senior side and with a contract with English county Worcestershire.
ICC European Regional Development Manager Richard Holdsworth believes the tournament is a stepping stone for the youngsters as well as offering them the chance to realise their dreams of playing in an ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup and the ICC Cricket World Cup.
"This is Europe's flagship event at youth level and an opportunity that many of these young men have been waiting on for many years," he said.
"The possibility of qualifying for and playing in the ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup is a dream for many, and for some it could be another step towards playing in the full ICC Cricket World Cup.
"Europe's top four ICC Associate High Performance countries will be fighting hard for a place in Malaysia in February next year, and hoping they get the chance to take on the big guns of the Test-playing Full Members," he added.
23 July - The Netherlands v Ireland at Bangor, Scotland v Denmark at Stormont
24 July - Denmark v Ireland at Osborne Park, the Netherlands v Scotland at Stormont
25 July - Rest/rain day
26 July - Denmark v the Netherlands at Belmont, Ireland v Scotland at Osborne Park
The ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup is a vital part of the ICC Development Program and provides a vehicle for the best young cricketers in the world to parade their skills.
Many of the future stars of the game experience their first true international exposure at this tournament and players such as Brian Lara, Michael Atherton, Yuvraj Singh, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Chris Cairns, Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya have used the event as a stepping stone to full international honours.
First staged in Australia in 1988, the tournament was initially organised on an occasional basis, but since the commencement of the ICC Development Program in 1997 it has become a biennial fixture.
The 2010 ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup will be held in Kenya while the 2012 tournament will be staged in Canada and UAE will host the 2014 edition.
The scorecards from the Europe U/19 Qualifier can be found at:
For more information about the ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup including details of all five qualifying tournaments for the 2008 event go to: