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Under-17 elite round begins

Last season's runners-up the Netherlands are among those kicking off the first elite round group on Thursday as 32 teams compete to be at the expanded finals.

Under-17 elite round begins
Under-17 elite round begins ©UEFA

The UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round kicks off on Thursday with 32 teams competing over two weeks for 15 places in the expanded finals in Bulgaria this May.

With 16 nations now competing in the final tournament, double the previous figure, the number of qualifying spots available in this round has expanded from seven to 15. Kicking off the action is Group 3, hosted by last season's runners-up the Netherlands, who meet Georgia after Belgium play Northern Ireland.

Most of the groups are played next week, with the last four running from 21 to 26 March, including holders England welcoming Romania, Norway and Slovenia. At stake in all the mini-tournaments are spots in the draw alongside hosts Bulgaria on 2 April in Pomorie.

Elite round groups
Group 1 (20-25 March): Spain*, France, Sweden, Israel

Group 2 (17-22 March): Portugal, Croatia, Serbia, Azerbaijan*

Group 3 (12-17 March): Netherlands*, Belgium, Georgia, Northern Ireland

Group 4 (21-26 March): Poland*, Republic of Ireland, Belarus, Greece

Group 5 (21-26 March): Austria, Russia*, Iceland, Wales

Group 6 (21-26 March): England* (holders), Romania, Norway, Slovenia

Group 7 (20-25 March): Czech Republic, Scotland, Hungary*, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group 8 (21-26 March): Germany*, Italy, Slovakia, Ukraine

*Hosts

•  The eight group winners and the seven runners-up with the best record against the teams first and third in their pool qualify to join hosts Bulgaria in the expanded 16-nation finals from 6–22 May 2015.

Draw facts
• Germany received a bye to this round.

• France overcame Spain in the 2004 final but fortunes were reversed four years later.

• Scotland beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 on their way to qualifying for last season's finals.

• Norway, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 2016 hosts Azerbaijan, are aiming to qualify for the first time.