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.
One member of the Netherlands delegation hit the nail on the head – Jari Schuurman not only has an eye for a pass and an eye for goal, he also has an eye for the situation.
Fair and slight, Schuurman is as bright as a button both on and off the pitch. His industrious No8 role for the Jong Oranje only hints at the mischievous character to be found at the team hotel in Mellieha, northern Malta. Last Saturday, he was helping Feyenoord pip PSV Eindhoven to the Dutch youth league title; on Friday, he was part of the Dutch side that opened their UEFA European Under-17 Championship campaign with a 3-2 victory against Turkey. On Saturday, he spoke to – and entertained – UEFA.com.
"Feyenoord and PSV were level on points going into the final day of the season last weekend," said Schuurman. "We won and they only drew, so we won the league by two points. There are five players from Feyenoord and four from PSV in this Dutch squad, so we had to take care of this when we met up to start our preparations on Monday. We made sure we teased them a bit!"
Schuurman, who lives 50km from Rotterdam, describes himself as "a Feyenoord supporter from my heart". He travels an hour and a half every day for training and school and says that "football comes before everything else". Even girls? No comment. Despite his affiliation with Feyenoord, Schuurman's forename has an unexpected origin.
"I have an Ajax name," he said. "I am named after former Ajax [and Finland] forward Jari Litmanen despite the fact I am a lifelong Feyenoord supporter and I play for Feyenoord – my team-mates and the trainers tease me sometimes!
Litmanen is an Ajax legend and my parents liked him as a footballer player and as a person. They were Litmanen fans."
Schuurman Jr has his own idols, his own role models: "I like Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund very much – I like seeing him play. Also, everyone loves to watch [Cristiano] Ronaldo because he is just an awesome player. I think another Dutch player, [Marco] van Ginkel from Chelsea, is my example because he is also a box-to-box midfielder."
With studies looming, Schuurman was reluctant for his time with UEFA.com to come to an end. With that in mind, he briefly put on a fake limp back to the hotel: "I need treatment for my injury". The bad news for the rest of the teams assembled in Malta – as well as the PSV players in the Dutch squad – is that he is as fit as a fiddle.
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