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.
Matches at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Belgium come thick and fast but that does not mean that the players here spend all their time playing or training, and a certain Netherlands captain is keeping his team-mates entertained with an unusual musical talent.
Table tennis duel
The Dutch and English squads were together at the tournament headquarters in Nivelles until yesterday morning, and they made full use of the facilities. England striker Rhys Murphy told uefa.com: "It's been good, we've been treated well. We've been into the local town, had a meal there and went to the cinema as well. We've set up a pool tournament among ourselves, little things like that to take our minds off things." Even challenging the Dutch before their on-pitch duel on Monday. "We've played a bit of table tennis with them, it's good," Murphy added.
Netherlands winger Nacer Barazite is now concentrating on the fifth-place play-off and praises coach Albert Stuivenberg for his relaxed attitude around the squad. "It is very important, he knows we are old enough to do things and gives us a chance to relax and make fun," Barazite said. "But we also know when we have to stop."
That recreation has not just been the staples of ping-pong and darts, but an innovative form of improvisationary percussion. "The boys are great and we make fun with each other, music, everything," Barazite revealed. "They use hands to make music. The captain is the best at it. It's nice to hear the beat and he does it so well."
Leroy Fer is that skipper, and modestly accepts the title of master of the new rhythmic discipline. "I am making it better all the time," Fer explained. Though Barazite goes on: "Sometimes it is annoying, we are sleeping and he is still doing things, but we tell him to stop, and he stops! When we go to the games he does it, then we relax as it is good not to only think of the game. Then he does the drums, we listen, and it takes our minds off the game."
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