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.
Convincing winners of Group B at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, thanks to victories against Scotland, Switzerland and Germany, Portugal now face highly-fancied England – who finished second in Group A – in the last four.
The Young Lions will hold no secrets for Emilio Peixe's side, who won 3-1 when the teams met in England last August before a 2-2 draw during February's Algarve Tournament. "We know England are a team with a lot of quality and we've got a lot of respect for them," left-back Yuri Ribeiro told UEFA.com on the eve of Sunday's semi-final at the Ta' Qali National Stadium. "We've played this England team before and it's always very tough, but we know we've got a lot of ability and that we're capable of doing well against them."
Working in Portugal's favour is the reassuring presence of Peixe in the dugout. A senior international with A Selecção das Quinas during his playing days, the former Sporting Clube de Portugal, SL Benfica and FC Porto midfielder also knows what it takes to triumph at youth level having been voted best player at the 1991 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. "Emilio is a good coach and is always there to try and help us in any way he can, both on and off the pitch," said captain and midfielder Rúben Neves.
"Even if he hadn't been a player, he would still have authority with the squad. However, with him having been successful, he maybe has more to pass on in terms of experience and the variety of his training methods." The Porto starlet then brought in Benfica's Ribeiro to quell any talk of potential cliques among players from Portugal's 'big three'.
"There's a great relationship between everybody in the squad, regardless of what team they play for, whether it's Porto, Benfica or Sporting," said the Eagles defender. "At club level the rivalry is very fierce but here with the national team we don't bring up club affairs and that's why the atmosphere in the squad is so good. We've played some great games here and in qualifying thanks to the unity and togetherness we have and our willingness to work hard for each other. This great bond and team spirit has brought us this far and it's what we hope will take us even further."
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