Rooney, Benzema, Kroos, Piqué among U17 stars

With the Under-17 elite round kicking off, we pick out the six nations that have defined the tournament's history and the stars they have produced over the years.

Rooney, Benzema, Kroos, Piqué among U17 stars
©UEFA.com

The UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round kicks off on Thursday with five of the competition's most successful nations among the 32 aiming for spots in the expanded 16-team finals in Bulgaria.

UEFA.com picks out the six countries who have qualified at this level more than any others, with highlights of their final wins and a look at the stars who learned their international trade in the U17 Championship.

England
Titles: 2 (2010, 2014)
Finals: 3 (2007, 2010, 2014)
Qualified: 10
Star alumni: Wayne Rooney (2002), James Milner (2003),  Theo Walcott (2005), Danny Welbeck (2007), Jack Wilshere (2009)

• The current holders have qualified for more final tournaments than anyone else.
• Manager John Peacock was in charge from 2002 to 2015.
• England won the 2010 title with 13 straight victories, qualifying and finals included.

France
Titles: 2 (2004, 2015)
Finals: 4 (2002, 2004, 2008, 2015)
Qualified: 9
Star alumni: Gaël Clichy (2002), Karim Benzema (2004), Samir Nasri (2004), Mamadou Sakho (2007), Paul Pogba (2010), Kurt Zouma (2011)

• The 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup winners, France lost the EURO final a year later on penalties.
• The all-star 2004 squad edged a thrilling final on home soil with a last-gasp Nasri goal.
• In 2011 they pipped Norway on goal difference with a 9-0 demolition of Belarus, still the elite round record victory.

Germany
Titles: 1 (2009)
Finals: 4 (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015)
Qualified: 8
Star alumni: Lukas Podolski (2002), Mario Gomez (2002), Lars Bender (2006), Toni Kroos (2006, 2007), Mario Götze (2009), Emre Can (2011)

• Germany's 2-1 extra-time defeat of the Netherlands in 2009 attracted a competition-record 24,000 crowd in Magdeburg.
• Future FIFA World Cup final hero Götze made both Germany goals in that match.
Kroos is the only player in the competition's history to play 20 U17 fixtures.

Netherlands
Titles: 2 (2011, 2012)
Finals: 5 (2005, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014)
Qualified: 9
Star alumni: Tim Krul (2005), Daley Blind (2007), Leroy Fer (2007), Georginio Wijnaldum (2007), Terence Kongolo (2011)

• Having never qualified before 2005, the Netherlands then got to five finals in a decade.
• Albert Stuivenberg led the team from 2006 to 2013 and now assists Louis van Gaal at Manchester United FC.
• They beat Germany 5-2 in the 2011 final having not conceded until that game.

Spain
Titles: 2 (2007, 2008)
Finals: 5 (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010)
Qualified: 9
Star alumni: David Silva (2002, 2003), Cesc Fàbregas (2004), Gerard Piqué (2004), César Azpilicueta (2006), David de Gea (2007), Thiago Alcantara (2008), Isco (2009), Koke (2009), Jesé Rodríguez (2010)

• Juan Santisteban was coach from 1988 to 2008, bowing out with a stunning 4-0 final thrashing of France.
• Among the players De Gea's Spain saw off in 2007, were Eden Hazard of Belgium in the semis and Welbeck of England in the final.

Switzerland (eliminated)
Titles: 1 (2002)
Finals: 1 (2002)
Qualified: 7
Star alumni: Tranquillo Barnetta (2002), Philippe Senderson (2002), Xherdan Shaqiri (2008), Haris Seferović (2009), Granit Xhaka (2009)

• Switzerland won the only previous 16-team U17 finals before 2015, which was the inaugural 2002 edition.
• In 2009 they lost to the Netherlands in the continental semi-finals but then went to Nigeria and lifted the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
• The Swiss were just the third European winners after the Soviet Union (1987) and France (2001).

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