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.
Slovakia make their UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals debut a week on Sunday and coach Ladislav Pecko believes the draw has given them every chance of success.
Pecko was keen to avoid Russia and Ukraine – and sure enough neither were drawn in Group A, with Slovakia to play Austria in Dubnica nad Vahom before Zilina fixtures against Switzerland and Sweden. Although Pecko's team have lost to both Austria and Switzerland in friendlies this season, he is sure they can at least get third place in the group – and a ticket to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, with anything beyond that "an added bonus" as he told UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: What do you think about the draw?
Ladislav Pecko: We have great expectations, we are participating for the first time, we are the host country, so every match will be crucial for us and there's no easy team in the group. We know how strong [Russia and Ukraine] are because we often play them, that's why I preferred the opponents we have in our group now, who don't know us so well. On the other hand, we don't know them either; but we know how tenacious the Slavonic countries can be, so I didn't want them as our opponents.
UEFA.com: So you're satisfied?
Pecko: More satisfied than I would have been if we had been in the other group [Croatia, Italy, Russia and Ukraine].
UEFA.com: Hosting a football championship means some pressure for the home team. How will you help your side cope?
Pecko: I think we've been trying to reduce that pressure; it is a U17 championship, it's sport, it's football, and that will be our attitude. But we will approach the tournament with full seriousness and try to get the best out of them.
UEFA.com: The first match is against Austria. What will be the key to success?
Pecko: The first match of a tournament is always important, and if you handle it well and at least don't lose you have good motivation and you go into the next games in high spirits. So the first match of every finals is quite decisive, but we mustn't overestimate it. If we don't handle it well, it won't be a tragedy. If we do, it'll be great and that's why we'll prepare as well as we can.
UEFA.com: Which opponent is the easiest one for you?
Pecko: Hard to say, really. We've already played Austria and Switzerland; we don't know Sweden very well, but we know what a football country it is. It's hard to judge in this category, maybe they were in better shape in qualifying. We'll see at the tournament itself; but if the players put their heart in it and fight, they can play against every opponent in the group.
UEFA.com: What is your goal?
Pecko: The primary goal is to get to the World Cup; that would mean maximum satisfaction. Everything above that goal would be an added bonus for us.
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