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.
Poland and Bulgaria have taken the top two places in UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round Group 4, meaning Spain are facing their first-ever elimination at this stage.
A last-day 1-0 victory for Spain against section winners Poland was not enough to lift them into the top two as they had previously lost by that score to Bulgaria. However, the two third-placed sides with the best record against the top two in their group also go into the elite round in March. Spain are currently first in that list with three mini-tournaments still to finish.
"Of course I am more than happy for the boys," said Bulgaria coach Metodi Deyanov. "This is a really great achievement for the team. We played very well in all three games and could have finished without defeat. All the boys gave their best and deserved to go through. This is a solid base for us, but we must now work even harder."
Spain were on top after the opening day, beating Azerbaijan 2-0 through José Ángel Pozo – who then missed a penalty – and Javier García. Paweł Stolarski's added-time goal ensured Poland overcame Bulgaria 2-1. Two days later, Bulgaria recovered to become the first team to inflict an U17 qualifying round defeat on Spain, courtesy of Chavdar Ivaylov's strike just before the break. Poland also won 1-0, against Azerbaijan, thanks to Stolarski's goal early in the second half.
Bulgaria made sure of progress on Wednesday as they eased to a 4-1 defeat of Azerbaijan, Kiril Despodov and Aleko Alekov each scoring twice. That meant Spain knew a 1-0 triumph against Poland would not be enough to secure a top-two finish.
Although Pedro Chirivella's 68th-minute penalty put them ahead, they had to settle for third place. That is because the tie was broken by the direct head-to-head records of the top three, leaving Poland at the summit and Bulgaria second.
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