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.
After 12 consecutive eight-team final tournaments, the UEFA European Under-17 Championship expands to 16 nations in May. Pavel Kolev, the Bulgarian Football Union's (BFS) U17 finals tournament director is overseeing the competition from 6 to 22 May, played across four cities. He spoke to UEFA.com about preparations and the appointment of Stiliyan Petrov as finals ambassador.
On preparations ...
Everything is going to schedule. The current focus is on the pitch – renovations we are doing to the training pitches, because the teams will all be in one centre. Basically the work is focused on training-pitch renovation and of course organisational matters for the UEFA programmes and grassroots activities we'll promote during the tournament.
On public interest ...
Interest is growing more and more. It will increase with the final tournament draw in April and after that, but we are doing our best to promote the tournament. We have the tournament ambassador now, Stiliyan Petrov, a great national team player who holds the record with more than 100 caps and is a legend of world football. He is very popular in Bulgaria so it's a very attractive tournament for youngsters here.
On hosting 16 teams ...
The biggest challenge was to provide football facilities of the necessary standard. A tournament like this is something that's never happened before in our country. It's a huge investment for the national association and for the country as well. It's definitely the biggest sporting event in Bulgaria in 2015 so we hope to receive the support of the government.
As for the local government in Burgas, which is the centre where the teams will be accommodated, we managed to find a hotel which will be able to accommodate every team, so basically all 16 sides will be together which is also something completely new, never been done before. But it will create a special atmosphere and I think it's a good idea to have them all together.
On the venues ...
We have four stadiums. The major one, where the final will be held, is in Burgas. We have Sliven, Stara Zagora and Sozopol as well. Four stadiums, four cities. Burgas and Sozopol are near the Black Sea coast, Sliven and Stara Zagora are more in the centre of the country, but everything is well connected to the road network. All of them are big football cities which will promote the tournament – they have actually already started to do that and we hope to see full stadiums.
On hopes for the Bulgaria team ...
We hope the team can do well. It's difficult to say what "well" actually means but for Bulgaria the main purpose is not to win the tournament. The main purpose is to make football more popular with youngsters and in schools – it's a key part of our national team plan to promote football in schools and increase the possibility for schoolboys and girls to learn football. We are now in negotiations with the ministry of education to have one additional hour of sport, of football in particular, each week. EURO 2015 is a very important step.
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