The European cricket circus arrives in Northern Ireland this week, with Belfast hosting an Under-19 Championship which also serves as a preliminary qualifier for 2012's ICC Under-19 World Cup.

Hosts Ireland will likely start the tournament as favourites, having triumphed last year in Jersey and having performed creditably on the global stage in New Zealand earlier this year. A potent attack, led by Shane Getkate and Graeme McCarter, is their strength, but batsmen such as Jason van der Merwe have been in rich form recently. Their captain is the Somerset-bound George Dockrell, whose meteoric rise to the national senior team has been one of the stories in Irish cricket this year.

The Dutch were the other European nation to make it to the global qualifier last year, but the loss of Kervezee and Allema - not to mention the 720 runs they scored between them - may hinder them in their attempts to repeat that performance. Nevertheless, Sebastian Braat and Philip van Meekeren will still form a formidable new-ball partnership, while Dennis Coster and Emile van den Burg will look to lead from the front with the bat.

Should the Netherlands slip up, Scotland seem well-placed to take advantage: Warwickshire's Freddie Coleman has been an explosive performer at age-group level; Matthew Cross has impressed with the bat and behind the stumps, and captain Paddy Sadler has a bright future ahead of him with the Cambridge Blues.

Last of the 'old four' is Denmark, and senior international Hamid Shah will be looking to lead his side out of its recent doldrums. On hand and eager to help are several national academy players: the leg-spinner Ihyas Suami, paceman Basit Raja, and wicket-keeper Anders Bulow.

Jersey have impressed a number of observers since the Islanders' admission to the top tier of European cricket. In captain Ben Stevens they will have one of the best slow bowlers in the tournament, while a number of squad members - Stephen Blackburn, Tim de la Haye, and Charles Perchard among them - will surely benefit from the World Cricket League and European Division 1 experience they have gained over the past year.

No less of a threat to the established nations is Guernsey. Captain Thomas Kirk is a hard-hitting batsman, while Andrew Hutchinson performed well for the senior XI in the recent European Division 1 Championship. That seven players in the squad for that tournament were under the age of 23 suggests that plenty of talent is coming through, and this week should provide further evidence of that.

An inclement forecast threatens to cast a shadow over the week's proceedings, but, should the conditions allow it, things are set for a fantastic week of cricket.