For the first time since 2002, the UEFA European Under-17 Championship final tournament featured 16 teams, initially split into four groups of four, with the top two in each section qualifying for the quarter-finals.
The need to determine Europe's six representatives at the FIFA U-17 World Cup meant that the four losing quarter-finalists went into two play-off ties in order to decide who would join the semi-finalists in Chile in the October-November competition. This entailed an increase in the number of matches played at the final tournament, from 15 in 2014 to 33 in 2015.
The challenge of hosting an event of such dimensions was very successfully met by the Bulgarian Football Union (BFS). They managed to locate a hotel complex in the Black Sea resort of Pomorie capable of accommodating all 16 delegations in addition to the organisational teams deployed on site by UEFA and the local organising committee. For the 33 matches, four venues were used: Burgas, Sliven, Sozopol and Stara Zagora. At approximately two hours' driving time, Stara Zagora was the most distant from the tournament HQ. Ten of the group fixtures were staged as double-headers at the same stadium.
The quarter-finals were played in Burgas and Stara Zagora; the semi-finals and World Cup play-offs took place at all four venues; and the setting for the final was Lazur Stadium in Burgas, the largest arena with a capacity of 19,004. Kick-off times ranged from 13.00 to 20.00 local time, with temperatures providing no cause for concern. A crowd of 14,680 to watch the final between France and Germany brought the cumulative attendance for the tournament to 78,912, an average of 2,391 per match. The largest crowd en route to the final was 11,684 for Bulgaria's opener against Croatia.
Nine referees and 12 assistant referees from non-participating countries were selected to gain their first experience of a UEFA competition, along with four Bulgarian referees who acted as fourth officials. As has become the custom in recent years, the tournament agenda featured educational briefings on doping controls and the dangers of match-fixing aimed at players who were, in the main, also enjoying their first taste of international competition.
UEFA's technical team in Bulgaria was formed by Savvas Constantinou (Cyprus), Jerzy Engel (Poland), Ghenadie Scurtul (Moldova) and Marc Van Geersom (Belgium). They were joined for the final by UEFA's chief technical officer, Ioan Lupescu (Romania).
Their observations have been compiled into a technical report which, in addition to providing a permanent record of the event, aims to offer useful information to coaches working at player development levels.
Marc Van Geersom
Pat Murphy (Sportsfile)