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.
It is enough of an honour for a family to produce one international footballer, let alone two. But in the German midfield at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship are twins Lars and Sven Bender.
Having turned 17 just a week before the tournament, they have enjoyed steering their country to the top of Group B in Luxembourg. "We have only been in the team for seven matches," Lars told uefa.com. "But since then we have been delighted with what we have achieved." They made their German U17 debuts 71 minutes apart against Sweden in February; Lars starting, Sven coming on as a substitute. Now both are regular starters in midfield roles they also fill at TSV 1860 München
There has been minimal difference in our progress as footballers," said Lars, who has overcome a knee problem in time for tonight's game against Serbia and Montenegro. "We have both had our ups and downs, but it has mostly been the same." Sven added: "It is the biggest event of my life. It is important for Germany to win these youth team tournaments. German football has been under pressure because people say we have not been producing quality players so it is important to get a good result."
The pair, whose father was an amateur footballer before suffering an achilles injury, have an intuition that clearly impresses Germany coach Bernd Stöber. Sven said: "There is not a lot of difference between ourselves, we just play together. One defends, the other goes forward. We are quite a good combination.
We prefer playing together because we know our own strengths and weaknesses - it would be quite tricky to play against each other. We would prefer it if we could stick together but you don't know what will happen in the future."
However, this does not mean they are inseparable. "On the pitch it is quite important to be together, to play together," Sven added. "But we do not always share rooms!" What they do share, though, is a mutual ambition at 1860 and both are dreaming of playing professionally at the Fußball Arena München. Lars said: "Because of the financial troubles the club has to look at the younger players and that means that we could have a chance. We are just looking step by step. The first stage is to get into the first team squad at 1860, but we wouldn't mind playing abroad if we had the chance."
Happy in limelight
Should they continue their rise together, even more attention will be focused on their possible emulation of great footballing twins like the De Boers. But the pair are happy to be noticed in that regard. "We see it as an advantage," Sven said. "It is quite unusual."
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