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 five third-placed sides with the best record against the leading pair in their groups.
In the elite round, held in early spring, those 31 qualifiers plus the top seed – 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.
Hosts Croatia and Israel finished ahead of Turkey and Kazakhstan to progress from UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round Group 12.
Having failed to reach the elite round last season for the first time since 2005, Croatia defeated all three opponents to take their place in the 5 December draw. Israel overcame Kazakhstan 6-2 today to ensure they too will compete for a finals berth in March.
"We played some really nice stuff and scored lots of goals too," Croatia coach Ivan Gudelj said. "Unfortunately, we conceded a lot we shouldn't have, but I am satisfied in the end."
Turkey, the 2005 championship winners, had ended the first day on top after a 3-0 success over Kazakhstan. The key moment was Islam Iminov's sending-off for conceding an 18th-minute penalty scored by Orkan Çinar. Ismail Köse added another on the half-hour and Mustafa Altıntaş converted a second spot kick after the interval.
In the other game Israel struck on two minutes against Croatia through Stav Ben Aharon, but Josip Bašić scored twice and Fran Brodić added a third before the 30-minute mark. Eran Hannia Biton pulled one back with 11 minutes left but, although Alen Halilović missed a penalty after Assel Sarsour was dismissed, Ante Roguljić confirmed Croatia's 4-2 victory in added time.
Two days later it was Israel's turn to come from behind against Turkey. Altıntaş had made it 1-0 at the break, only for Shon Zalman Weissman to register twice before the hour. Amit Mizrachi quickly added another and, while Altıntaş responded, Israel substitute Ori Or Eiloz secured a 4-2 cushion that proved useful when Biton received his marching orders. Petar Mamić and Bašić helped Croatia move three points clear in their 2-0 win against Kazakhstan.
Croatia still required a result against Turkey today to be absolutely certain of progress and duly sealed a 4-3 triumph in Imotski. Robert Murić's early goal was cancelled out by Mert Öztürk yet within two minutes Ivan Fiolić had made it 2-1 and Roguljić added another after the restart. Turgay Gemicibaşi reduced arrears but substitute Anton Krešić's strike meant Mahmuthan Acar's late goal could not change the result – though it may keep Turkey in the tournament.
That is because Turkey were left third after Israel cruised to three points against Kazakhstan with Weismann netting twice. However, Acar's effort versus Croatia ensured that Turkey leapfrogged Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to be the third-placed side with the second-best record against the top two in their group with eight of the 13 qualifying round mini-tournaments played. Turkey must hope no other third-placed team betters them in the next fortnight or they will miss out on the elite round for the first time since 2002/03.
Meanwhile, the 2,800 crowd that watched Croatia beat Turkey was the highest of this year's competition. Indeed the hosts' three matches were the only U17 games this season to have attendances above 2,000. Gudelj said: "We had [2,500] people in Sinj in the first game, but I didn't expect it would be [so many] in Imotski. It is a record for Croatia's U17 team. This victory is for the fans."
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