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.
While England are in their first final in the continents junior men's tournament, Spain were already into double figures even before their run to today's UEFA European Under-17 Championship decider in Belgium.
Spain's first final was in the fourth edition of the then U16 event, meeting Italy in Athens, and Gianni Flamigni's own goal ensured a 2-1 win and the debut title. Two years later Spain made the final again, this time on home soil. And after a 0-0 draw with Portugal in Madrid, Spain won 4-2 on penalties and became the first nation to take the trophy twice. The Juan Santisteban era now began, and in 1991 Spain's third final came against a newly unified Germany in Berne. Antonio Robaina was the hero with two goals in the 25th minute to secure a 2-0 win. A year later these nations were matched again in Cyprus, but this time Germany prevailed 2-1.
In 1995 the U16 finals were in Belgium, and just as this year Santisteban led Spain to the final - though they went down 2-0 to Portugal. But better was to follow in Germany two years later as Spain took on Austria and won 5-4 on penalties after a goalless game, a young Iker Casillas between the posts. The Czech Republic staged the 1999 finals and Spain, with another future star Pepe Reina in goal, won through to play Poland for the trophy. And it was a fifth success, as although Jorge Perona's ninth strike of the finals was cancelled out by Rafal Grzelak, in the second half Pedro Álvarez, Ernesto Gomez and Elías Molina secured a 4-1 win.
England in 2001 marked the last tournament before the reclassification to U17 level, and it was appropriate that Spain marked the change with their sixth U16 title. Nearly 30,000 were present in Sunderland as France, who were to go on to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup, were defeated by a 76th-minute Fernando Torres penalty.
However, Spain tasted defeat in both their U17 finals to date, each game against host nations. In 2003 against Portugal, although David Rodríguez - brother of 2007 squad member Sergio - cancelled out Márcio Sousa's first-half goal, the home player struck again to earn a 2-1 win. A year on in France, Kévin Constant put the home side ahead and Gerard Piqué equalised for a Spain side including Cesc Fabregas, only for Samir Nasri to score for Les Mini-Bleus from distance in the last minute.
England do have the consolation of having won as many European U18 titles as Spain. In 1993 Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes and Robbie Fowler helped England beat Turkey 1-0 wile two years on Spain, with Guti and Francisco Rufete in tow gained a 4-1 win against Gianluigi Buffon, Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo's Italy. But in the modern U19 event Spain won in 2002, 2004 and 2006 while England have a sole final defeat by France in 2005 in the bank. Spain even took the women's U19 title in 2003 to underline their prowess in youth football.
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