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 four third-placed sides with the best record against the leading pair in their groups.
In the elite round, held in early spring, those 30 qualifiers plus the top two seeds – 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.
Though Portugal's UEFA European Under-17 Championship campaign is now over following Sunday's semi-final defeat by England, Emilio Peixe was fiercely proud of his young charges' displays in Malta.
"There's a real sense of sadness at having been knocked out, but what I'd focus on at this moment is the huge feeling of pride I have for the whole campaign these players have had," Peixe said. "They all deserve to be congratulated for that."
Indeed, the Portuguese players could leave Malta with their heads held high, having once again contributed an entertaining brand of play which only just failed to reap its reward. "We were clearly the best team at this European Championship," added Peixe. "We had the best players and played the best football so we ought to be pleased about that. This is a process and this will help us grow as a team and be successful in the future."
Portugal struck the woodwork three times in the first half of their semi-final loss, though Peixe did not dwell on that misfortune. "That's football," he said. "What we're left with are somewhat mixed feelings regarding the result but, I repeat, I'm really pleased and really proud of how my players have performed."
Group B victories against Scotland, Switzerland and Germany had extended Portugal's record of not having conceded a competitive goal since last October – in a 2-1 qualifying round victory over Montenegro – to seven matches. England finally discovered the key to unlocking that defence Sunday.
From start to finish, Portugal notched nine straight victories until a reverse which ended their hopes of glory but failed to dent their coach's belief. "They've proven they've got quality, they've shown great character at all times and we've got to be pleased with the campaign we had," Peixe continued.
"When we came here, our objective was for these players to compete at the very highest level, and they've taken good advantage. Like I mentioned before, in the future I'm certain we'll continue to grow, we'll get better and better and if we keep playing this way we'll get closer to winning titles."
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