The UEFA European Under-19 Championship consists of three distinct stages: the qualifying round, the elite round and the final tournament.
The qualifying round, played in autumn, is made up of 13 groups of four teams playing in one-venue mini-tournaments. The top two from each progress.
In the elite round, played in the spring, those 26 qualifiers join the top two seeds, given a bye, in seven mini-tournament groups of four. The group winners then join the hosts in the finals.
The seven qualifiers plus the hosts are split into two groups of four who play each other once, with the top two progressing to the semi-finals. The winners of those ties contest the final.
Further details, including the criteria for separating teams that finish level on points in a group, or after extra time in a match, can be found in the official competition regulations.
Pablo Sarabia captained Spain to their first UEFA European Under-19 Championship crown since 2007 in Romania last summer, the Getafe CF midfielder scoring in the group stage and semi-final en route to the showpiece against the Czech Republic. They required an 85th-minute equaliser and an extra-time comeback to lift the trophy, a feat Sarabia told UEFA.com is not only a highlight of his career but a testament to the tradition of Spain's youth teams.
UEFA.com: Is the tournament still fresh in your memory?
Pablo Sarabia: Yes, we were living the dream in Romania and we will never forget it. It is a great memory that the players will cherish for the rest of their lives. Obviously the day of the final stands out because that was the day we were crowned champions, but all the matches were important to us in winning the European title.
UEFA.com: Is there more pressure on Spain this season given their great history in youth tournaments?
Sarabia: The current team have to try and do things well, just like all the Spanish youth teams have been doing. They have to do the best they possibly can, play their football and grab the opportunity to win trophies. It is about putting into practice the football that we [Spain] are playing now, our football philosophy. Spanish teams are always up there. Our youth teams have played some really good tournaments and have won a lot of titles, so you go out there knowing that tradition. But you have to try to do things well and stay calm because that is what gives you the confidence to achieve.
UEFA.com: How tough was it in Romania?
Sarabia: It was never going to be easy and while some of our victories may have come across as being straightforward, we always had to work hard from the very first minute. We achieved the victories we did because the team were serious from the very beginning. By the time of the final we had confidence and all we wanted was to win. After all the effort you have put in to get to that point, you want to win the final as well. Of course, when they score you get nervous and there are some doubts, but the team reacted very well to going behind twice and ultimately managed to get the victory.
UEFA.com: Did it help that many of you had grown up together in the national team system?
Sarabia: Definitely. It was a group of players that had been formed for a while. We were a great team and we got on really well together. This was one of the key factors in us winning the European Championship. If you do not have a good group then everybody would just be playing as individuals. If a player just did his own job then realistically you would not work together as a group. Teams who win European Championships are compact and united.
UEFA.com: How big an influence was coach Ginés Meléndez?
Sarabia: I learned a lot from him, from tactics to the defensive side of the game. To have him in charge was just phenomenal because he has won so many European Championships and World Cups. He is a coach you cannot say anything against because he has won it all. He has so much to teach his players. At national team level he has definitely been the biggest influence, no doubt about it. He has taught me the most important things.
UEFA.com: Last year you came off the bench to replace Cristiano Ronaldo in the UEFA Champions League for Real Madrid CF – what was that like?
Sarabia: It was an incredible experience because it was my debut for the first team. To come on for one of the best players in the world is something I will never forget.
UEFA.com: This season you are playing for Getafe CF and Spain Under-21s. How are you enjoying the new phase in your career?
Sarabia: It is a very important step for me, a new era compared with previous years. I have been trying to adapt to these new circumstances and to continue to grow and develop. Playing tournaments like last summer has helped my development a lot and has sharpened my game. Now the job is to continue to build a career which hopefully will last many years – always taking it step by step.
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