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.
This year's UEFA European Under-17 Championship is the first UEFA competition to benefit from the use of vanishing spray, used by the referee to mark the spot a free-kick is taken and the minimum required distance for the defensive wall. UEFA.com caught up with two of the competition's match officials, and UEFA refereeing officer Marc Batta, for their views on the new initiative.
"It's still early days, but we think it will be good for the referees, as it will help them focus on the play," said Batta. "Until now, they've had to manage the kicker, the wall – which can sometimes contain four or five defenders and a couple of attackers – and keep track of what is happening in the box.
"Now, with the vanishing spray, the ball is in place and can't be moved, while the wall knows where it has to be too – so it gives the referee a better opportunity to manage what's going on in the penalty area as well. Of course it could be a good thing for football too: now we can be absolutely certain the wall is at the correct distance, which should create the opportunity for more goals in the future."
On the same wavelength were Austrian official Alexander Harkam and Aliyar Aghayev of Azerbaijan. "I think it's a great idea," said Harkam, 31. "It really helps the players, because they can see where the line is for the ball and where the line is for the wall, so there's no discussion, no confusion."
For his part, Aghayev, who was the man in the middle for Malta's clash with the Netherlands on matchday two, is also positive in his verdict on the pilot scheme. "I think it's the first time in UEFA history vanishing spray has been used, so it's something of an honour for us to be the first to try it," said the 27-year-old. "We tried it in a practical session when the sprays arrived, and then used it during the first matches. I think it helps the referees and also the attacking team, as they know the wall will be 9.15m away – no more and no less."
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