The UEFA European Under-17 Championship consists of three distinct stages: the qualifying round, the elite round and the final tournament. The format changed for 2014/15 with the expansion of the final tournament from eight to 16 teams.
The qualifying round, played in autumn, is made up of 13 groups of four countries playing in one-venue mini-tournaments. The top two from each pool progress alongside the four third-placed sides with the best record against the leading pair in their groups.
In the elite round, held in early spring, those 30 qualifiers plus the top two seeds – given a bye this far – compete in eight mini-tournament groups of four. The group winners and seven runners-up with the best record against the teams first and third in their section advance to the finals to join the hosts.
In the final tournament the contenders are split into four groups of four, with the front two from each proceeding to the knockout phase.
Further details, including the criteria for separating sides that finish level on points in a group, or after 80 minutes in a match, can be found in the official competition regulations.
With all four teams still in the hunt for a semi-final berth but none yet assured of a place in the last four, Group B could be set for a dramatic conclusion on Thursday.
The Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and hosts Slovenia have all been intent on heading to the capital of Ljubljana for the knockout stage of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship since convening in Maribor more than a week ago. Only two can make the trip, though. Marcin Dorna's Poles and Albert Stuivenberg's title holders currently occupy the top two spots in the section and will both progress with a draw in their matchday three encounter in Lendava.
"We want to win because our players are an ambitious young team," said Dorna. "The positive thing is that we have everything in our hands. The Netherlands have in their squad three players from last year's winning team, including [joint] top scorer [Tonny Trindade de Vilhena], and the coach is also the same. They haven't changed the style of football which proved to be successful last year. We respect this team but also know our strengths. It is a match like any other for us."
Maybe so, but for Stuivenberg there needs to be a marked improvement on the performance of his player's in Monday's goalless draw against Belgium. "They need to learn from that because this will be a tough game again," he said. "But we are happy to play these games because that is why we are here. We have to focus on what we did very well on Friday [in the 3-1 win against Slovenia]. We will see, hopefully they will be better, that is our job."
Whatever the outcome in Lendava, Belgium – without a goal at the finals – and Slovenia know they must win in Maribor if they are to stand a chance of going through. "I think we are quite close to the top and the only thing that is missing is the way we are thinking, especially in the penalty area," said Belgium's Patrick Klinkenberg. "We play attacking football whatever happens but we have more than one way of playing. For young players it is very important to be able to change; 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1."
Changes are also afoot for Slovenia's Miloš Kostič, who has called up Haris Heljezovič in place of the injured Damjan Vukliševič but is concerned some of his other players may be feeling the effects of their exertions in the opening two fixtures. "I hope for the best possible recovery by my players because the pitch was soft [on Monday] which meant they used up a lot of energy," he said. "I still have players on the bench who can help, though. We have been taking it one match at a time and the priority now is that we beat Belgium."
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