Papua New Guinea (PNG) will start as favourites to qualify for next year's ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Malaysia when the ICC East Asia-Pacific U/19 Qualifier begins in the Pacific island of Vanuatu on Wednesday.

It will be the first of five regional qualifying tournaments to be played up to the end of August.

The European Under-19 Qualifier will be held in Belfast from 23-26 July, the Americas Under-19 Qualifier takes place in Toronto from 13-18 August, the Asian Under-19 Qualifier is staged in Malaysia from 20-29 August and the Africa Under-19 Qualifier will be in Benoni from 25-30 August.

A total of 31 teams will take part in the qualifying tournaments with five teams joining the 10 Full Members and Malaysia for the main event to be played from 17 February to 2 March, 2008.

Pakistan will aim to complete a hat-trick of titles in Kuala Lumpur. It won the 2004 event in Bangladesh by defeating the West Indies by 25 runs and then successfully defended the title two years later in Sri Lanka by beating traditional rivals India in the final by 38 runs.

PNG missed out on the 2000 and 2006 Under-19 Cricket World Cups, both in Sri Lanka, but participated in three events that were held in South Africa in 1998, New Zealand in 2002 and Bangladesh in 2004.

The other three teams taking part in the EAP Under-19 Qualifier are Japan, Vanuatu and Fiji. Vanuatu is one of the six Affiliates taking part in the tournaments with the others being Qatar, Afghanistan, Oman, the Bahamas and Ghana.

It will be Japan's debut appearance at this level after it became an Associate in 2005, while Fiji was the host of the previous EAP Qualifier when it was staged in 2001.

Vanuatu hosted the 2005 EAP Cricket Cup, and ICC EAP Regional Development Manager Matt Weisheit believes the country is progressing in the right direction. He said: 'We are delighted that Vanuatu will be hosting this significant EAP Under-19 Qualifier.

'It follows the successful staging of the 2005 EAP Cricket Cup tournament and we see this tournament as building on the progress Vanuatu is making in terms of cricket development both on and off the field,' he added.

Weisheit hopes the EAP Under-19 Qualifier will produce good cricket and sees it as an important tournament in the calendar. 'Given the winner of this qualifier will progress directly to the Under-19 World Cup, it is sure to be a hotly contested event.

'The lure of participating in a World Cup will provide significant motivation for the countries involved and as such this is one of the major tournaments on the 2007 EAP cricket calendar.'

The President of Vanuatu Cricket Association (VCA) Mark Stafford said the tournament will provide a valuable boost for the growth of the sport in Vanuatu. He said: 'We have focused on developing our junior cricket programs and structures, and hosting the EAP Under-19 Qualifier complements our ambitions to cultivate a strong junior base.'

The tournament also has the backing of the Vanuatu Government, with the Minister for Youth Development and Training, the Honourable Dunstan Hilton offering his support. 'We have been a long time supporter of cricket in Vanuatu. We realise how important this tournament is to continuing the development of the sport.

'We fully endorse the VCA in the hosting of the Under-19 Tournament and look forward to fostering our relationship with the Association in the future.'

On the opening day, Japan will take on PNG at the Kazaa Field while the Independence Park will host Fiji and Vanuatu. The top two teams will play for the title with the winner earning a ticket to Malaysia.

Teams:

VANUATU: Andrew Mansale, Trevor Langa, Frederick Timakata, Simpson Hopeman Obed, Lazaro Carlot, Johnathan Dunn, Brendan Gabriel Francis Piau-Lynch, Steven Mark Piau-Lynch, Trevor Rambay, Patrick Kaltaneaki Matautaava, Henry Chilia, Silou Delarue, Selwyn Garae, Victor Aru. Patrick Haines (manager), Pierre Chilia (coach).

FIJI: Josefa Rika (captain), Maciu Babiau (vice-captain), Viliame Yabaki, Peni Dakainivanua, Sekope Biauniceva, Makutu Seru, Viliame Manakiwai, Coqabula Waqabaca, Tukana Tavo, Patrick Tuidraki, Vilikesa Nailolo, Joni Dauveipapitaiso, Gaurang Patel, Enoch Tamani. Aminio Tamani (manager), Joeli Mateyawa (coach).

JAPAN: Kodai Hirano, Takumi Nomura, Naoki Kamatani, Naotsune Miyaji, Masahiro Azuma, Ryo Ikeba, Hideyo Ishida, Taketeru Yoshida, Shohei Okuma, Yosuke Higashimoto, Naoki Toyoda, Naoki Hayashi, Jiro Takenaka, Raheel Kano. Yuma Shimizu (manager), Yosuke Hatanaka (coach).

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Tony Pala Ura, Heni Siaka, Tanti Heni, Joel Tom, Miller Rabura, Alfred Amini, Colin Terian Amini, Arua Vagi Dikana, Jonathan Diho, Jason Kila, Loa Nou, Jacob Morea Mado, Harry Eua, Willie Toua Gavera. Cheryl Amini (manager), Gavera Rarua (coach).

Schedule

18 July - Japan v PNG at Kazaa Field, Fiji v Vanuatu at Independence Park
19 July - Vanuatu v Japan at Kazaa Field, Fiji v PNG at Club Hippique
20 July - Rest day
21 July - Vanuatu v PNG at Kazaa Field, Fiji v Japan at Independence Park
22 July - final at Kazaa Field, 3/4th place play-off at Club Hippique

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 Under-19 World Cup will be held in Kenya while the 2012 tournament will be staged in Canada and UAE will host the 2014 edition.