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.
Belgium may be out of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship after a heartbreaking semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat by Spain but in playmaker Eden Hazard they have unearthed a real gem.
The hosts' performance has given hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the senior side and Hazard's speed, control, passing and shooting has been a particular delight. Spain coach Juan Santisteban, who has brought on as many stars as anyone in recent decades, singled out Hazard for praise after last night's match and Belgium chief Bob Browaeys agrees. "Hazard is a very good player, who may have a beautiful future," Browaeys said. "As a playmaker he is very special."
Highs and lows
Hazard helped put Belgium ahead against ten-man Spain when the LOSC Lille Métropole player's 63rd-minute shot was deflected in by David Rochela before Bojan Krkić's equaliser. The No10 also converted in the shoot-out to make it 4-3 - though it was all then to go wrong for the hosts. "It was a great feeling to score, and we certainly thought that with a 1-0 lead against ten players it would be possible to reach the final," Hazard told uefa.com. "I don't know why we let it slip through our fingers, but it was an incredible goal from Bojan."
It is not over for Hazard and his colleagues at this level, as their top-five finish means they are headed for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic later this summer. "We have learned a lot here and played against excellent teams with good players," he said. "Now we can even learn more in the World Cup. This tournament has been a very positive experience for all of us, so now we have to take those experiences back to our clubs. I have been talking a lot about our dream of playing in the first team at Lille with France's Omar Benzerga." That wish may be very close to fruition judging by his performances over the last week.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.