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 five third-placed sides with the best record against the leading pair in their groups.
In the elite round, held in early spring, those 31 qualifiers plus the top seed – 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.
A little over two weeks after overseeing the opening fixture of the 2016 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, Petr Ardeleanu will return to Baku's 8km Stadium on Saturday to referee the final between Portugal and Spain.
The 35-year-old from Tachov – a town in the west of the Czech Republic close to the German border – will lead a team featuring assistant referees Balázs Buzás (Hungary) and Ceyhun Sesigüzel (Turkey), and fourth official Gunnar Jarl Jónsson (Iceland).
Ardeleanu has been the man in the middle for three games in Azerbaijan, including the matchday one meeting of Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He describes his first final tournament as "amazing".
"It's a good experience for all of the referees," he told UEFA.com. "[Being chosen for] the final is unbelievable; I had goosebumps when told because it was a surprise. There are good referees here, good guys, so I've been really lucky. It can happen only once in a lifetime."
The title decider will be Ardeleanu's 21st UEFA assignment of what has been his busiest campaign since joining the international list in January 2013. It is a season that started with a UEFA Europa League qualifier in Belfast on 2 July and one that will culminate in a trip to France for UEFA EURO 2016, where he will be an additional assistant referee under the Czech Republic's premier official, Pavel Královec.
Ardeleanu acknowledges that emulating his compatriot will, if at all, be a gradual process. "Every referee wants to reach the top, but it's a case of taking things step by step and it may happen eventually," he said. "You must do a good job and have a little bit of luck."
Ardeleanu and his colleagues have been convening with the tournament's referee observers and UEFA Referee Coordinator Nikolay Levnikov after every match.
Fourth official at the weekend for the last-eight tie involving Germany and Belgium, Ardeleanu most recently handled Spain's decisive Group D contest with Italy, while in October he was in charge of two of La Roja's qualifying round matches in Riga. Such familiarity with one of the finalists can only help.
"You know who their important players are, the leaders, and you can communicate with them," explained Ardeleanu, a regular presence in the Czech top flight. "Some of the players recognise you and are aware of what to expect from you, and vice-versa. I've also watched two of Portugal's games and seen clips from some of their other matches."
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