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.
After a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands secured their place in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship semi-finals, Poland are one step closer to their dream of lifting the trophy.
Germany may provide a formidable hurdle before the showpiece, but Poland's run can already be considered a success, and the players are keen to inspire the Polish senior side to similar heights when the co-hosts kick off their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign in Warsaw next month.
"We are aware that our run in the tournament is being followed in Poland as there is lot of information on it being published online back in Poland," midfielder Adrian Cierpka told UEFA.com.
"This can also really promote Poland before the EUROs," he added. "Our success hopefully means Poland won't be treated as a team who qualified for EURO 2012 only because they're hosts. We want to show that Poland should be treated with respect."
More often than not players at the U17s name the national team idols they wish to emulate and the players who inspired them at the start of their careers. However, the Polish side in Slovenia are hoping it will be the other way around – at least in the short term. "Our team and the seniors are at two completely different levels," said goalkeeper Oskar Pogorzelec. "However, if we get a good result here, we will show the way."
They are sentiments echoed by Cierpka: "We have shown our colleagues that there is no need to be afraid of any team in Europe. All you need is self-confidence." Defender Igor Łasicki added: "I hope that our run in the U17 finals will be a good sign for the national team. They will definitely hear about our performance in Slovenia."
While all the players are keen to emphasise their excitement at the significant investment UEFA EURO 2012 will bring to football infrastructure in their home country, Pogorzelec also pointed out that this summer's tournament makes their own futures a little more rosy.
"I noticed that in this EURO 2012 wave, clubs in Poland are putting more faith in youth. My team-mate from Legia Warszawa, Rafał Wolski, [played in the UEFA Europa Leagua] is one such example, and [U17 forward] Mariusz Stępiński has made his debut for Widzew Łódź. [Poland's] young footballers are showing that it is worth giving them a chance."
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