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.
Every player participating in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta has been warned of the dangers of doping.
The eight squads taking part in the finals have been made aware of how big a risk doping can present if some simple guidelines are not followed. "This is to stop you making silly mistakes and ruining your career," said Richard Grisdale, UEFA's anti-doping and medical coordinator. "Now you are representing your country, this is an important topic that you need to know about. If it is in your body, you are responsible."
Grisdale, who reinforced UEFA's zero-tolerance stance, warned the players of a duty and obligation they have not only to themselves, but also to their team-mates, clubs and national teams.
"You can't blame somebody else," he added. "If you have a banned substance in your body, it doesn't tell me why. It doesn't tell me you made a mistake: it just says you tested positive. I have to assume the worst – you took it deliberately, to cheat."
Not only was it emphasised how doping is cheating, but also how it can have long-term consequences for a player's health. Some substances found on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) List of Prohibited Substances and Methods – adhered to by UEFA – can even be found in over-the-counter medicines and vitamin supplements. Some may not even be listed as ingredients, but that cannot be an excuse.
"If you are not sure, ask your team doctor," Grisdale said. "Anything that goes into your body, you are responsible for. Take this responsibility – it's your body, your career. If you test positive, you will get banned. It will be your career that will be shortened."
A video of UEFA's anti-doping operations at UEFA EURO 2012 outlined the procedure employed in taking samples and testing. Some players in Malta can expect to be tested at some stage of the tournament, which is why they have to be aware of the process involved. "It could take a long time for you to produce a sample as you will be dehydrated, so you will need to be patient," continued Grisdale.
UEFA has been educating players at youth tournaments annually since 2005, with talks aimed at raising awareness and preventing potentially career-damaging repercussions. "Use your head, but don't worry," said Grisdale. "Around 99% of footballers have never had any problems. Be sensible and you will be OK. Football is the most popular sport in the world and we all love it. The moment it is linked with doping and cheating, people will become interested in something else."
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