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.
In Zilina ahead of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship final between Italy and Russia, UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee chairman Jim Boyce expressed his gratitude to Slovakia, who are hosting a first tournament in 13 years. Boyce explained to UEFA.com the important role the competition plays in youth development, and why it is a necessity for countries such as Slovakia to stage such events.
UEFA.com: Slovakia has not staged an international tournament since the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2000. How have the U17 finals gone?
Jim Boyce: I had the pleasure of being in Slovakia in 2000. I was vice-chairman of the European Under-21 Championship Committee and they staged a magnificent tournament then. There have been some 40,000 people who have come to watch games here at the U17 tournament, and that proves that the UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee are right to give countries who would not have the opportunity to stage a major final round the chance to have tournaments such as this.
UEFA.com: The facilities have been good for the teams, who have all expressed their happiness at the way things have been organised.
Boyce: Certainly since I arrived, all the people I have spoken to have been very happy with the facilities, very happy with the training pitches. The hotel is first class and the nice thing is that the stadium where the final is being played is literally a minute's walk away. But Slovakia is a lovely country.
Lithuania will host the draw for the U19 finals on 14 June. I am a great believer in taking these tournaments around different countries, and I think it is wonderful that smaller countries are getting the chance to host them.
UEFA.com: The run of the Slovak team to the semi-finals certainly caught the imagination of the public here.
Boyce: Very much so. In many ways, it would have been nice for the local team to have got to the final. But speaking to some of them, they are absolutely delighted to have qualified to go to the United Arab Emirates for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October. I think that is tremendous for Slovakia.
There are six teams from this tournament who have the opportunity to go there. As I have said for many years, UEFA deserve a lot of credit for what they do for youth football, because winning is very important obviously – each country that comes to a tournament wants to win – but I think it also helps with the education of the lads. It helps them make great friends with different people from around Europe who they may never have met otherwise, and I think it hopefully makes them better citizens.
UEFA.com: Speaking to the coaches, that is certainly something that came across. Of course they would like to win, but they emphasised that the experience of the finals itself is more important.
Boyce: There is absolutely no doubt about that. When you look at the tournaments that have been held by UEFA over many years, and you look at the number of players who have become established, and international players with their A teams, this is really what it is all about. The most important thing is that it helps the development of football in those countries.
UEFA.com: The U17 finals are going to be expanded from eight to 16 teams for the 2015 tournament in Bulgaria. What is the thinking behind that?
Boyce: I think it is a very big decision. It used to be the case. The U17 competition is all about the development of the players, it is also for the development of smaller countries, and it is going to give many more countries the opportunity to have young lads coming and playing in these finals. With eight teams, it is very tight.
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