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.
Today Spain begin the defence of their UEFA European Under-17 Championship title in Tenerife – and for the first time in two decades Juan Santisteban will not be in charge.
A member of the Real Madrid CF side that dominated the early years of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in the late 1950s, Santisteban retired this summer after leading Spain to their sixth title at this level under his command. His long-time colleague Ginés Meléndez has stepped up to the helm, having previously led the U19 squad to similar European success, and makes no bones about the importance of Santisteban's absence, "We'll miss him," Meléndez told uefa.com. "We worked together for eight years and it will be difficult with him not around."
However, the aim now is to reach next May's finals in Germany; Santisteban only ever missed out on qualification once. With his side set to face Estonia, Armenia and England – the nation they beat in the 2007 final – in qualifying round Group 13, Meléndez has confidence in this season's squad. "They are extremely enthusiastic and full of hope, above all because it's something new for them," he said. "They want to get going as soon as possible and I'm sure that they'll play well, as the players have always done in the past at this level."
Spain will have the luxury of experience on their side in the shape of FC Barcelona striker Carmona, who started last season's stunning 4-0 final defeat of France in Turkey. For the rest, it is their first taste of competitive football. "We got together for three days last week and also had a tournament in Germany which included the host country, Italy and the Netherlands," Meléndez said. "We also usually try to meet up throughout the year."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.