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.
Playmaker Eden Hazard enjoyed a trip down memory lane as hosts Belgium started their UEFA European Under-17 Championship quest with a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands.
The 16-year-old was on familiar territory at the Stade Luberton having started his career playing for local side AFC Tubize between the ages of nine and 14 before being snapped up by French club LOSC Lille Métropole. "It's really nice to come back to the place where I spent five years and to see all the familiar faces again," he told uefa.com. "When I looked around the stadium it looked as if the only people in the stands were friends and family members."
Nonetheless, Hazard did not feel any pressure as he stepped up to convert a 57th-minute penalty after being upended in the area by Marko Matic to make it 2-1 in the Group B encounter. "At that moment it made no difference who was sitting in the stands," he said. "I just had to do my duty for the team. Obviously then it felt great to know that so many people were watching but the main thing was that I put my team in the lead again."
'A real blow'
However, Belgium's hopes of an opening-day victory were to be dashed as Georginio Wijnaldum struck a terrific free-kick to level for the Netherlands three minutes from time, the home side having hit the woodwork as they attempted to make the game safe. "That was a real blow at the end of the match as we could have made it 3-1 before that, but all in all we can feel positive about our performance as we look forward to our next match," concluded Hazard, whose side next face England in Tournai on Friday.
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