by Simon Daish
Italy rejoiced at the event last year after claiming the Junior Boys’ Team title with a thrilling victory in the final, and the team will be a force to be reckoned with in Guimarães as they bid to retain their silverware.
However, the defending champions face a difficult encounter with Belgium in Group D who are expected to field the likes of Florian Cnudde and Laurens Devos, while the Slovak Republic and Greece are also group stage opponents for the Italians.
Narrowly missing out on lifting the trophy in 2016, the Czech Republic will be hoping to enjoy another strong campaign this year. Meetings with Romania, Denmark and Serbia await the Czech team in the group stage of the competition.
Irvin Bertrand and Bastien Rembert are just two of the talented players selected to represent a highly talented French team, but can the squad get off to a strong start in Guimarães by finishing above England, Poland and Slovenia to achieve top spot in Group A?
Over in the Junior Girls’ Team competition all eyes will be on Romania, and whether they can make it back-to-back title successes in the category.
With the Romanian lineup including Adina Diaconu and Andreea Dragoman the squad will feel confident about their chances in Portugal, but first the team must fend off challengers France, Croatia and Slovenia in their group.
Serbia finished in the silver medal position last year in Zagreb and have been handed a tough fixture at the 2017 edition of the tournament against Germany, with Poland and Turkey occupying the other two spots in Group D.
One side which could be in line for a strong outing in the Junior Girls’ Team competition is Azerbaijan. Runner up in last year’s Junior Girls’ Singles category Ning Jing makes the squad, and there is a good chance that the team could be a major contender at the tournament. Azerbaijan will face off against Belarus, Spain and Hungary in Group C.
Russia dominated the cadet events one year ago in Zagreb claiming both team trophies on offer, and the country will be aiming for a repeat performance in Guimarães.
The nation is positioned in Group A in both the Cadet Boys’ Team and Cadet Girls’ Team draws, but can both teams continue to set the pace and hold on to their trophies?