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Capello determined to tame Spain

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Phil McNulty | 13:10 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Fabio Capello does not deal in the cheap currency of hype and jingoism - so when he declares he has "big confidence" as England prepare to face Euro 2008 holders Spain in Seville he can be taken at his word.

If a similar bold profession had been made 12 months ago, it would have treated with scepticism or as a bid by Capello to talk up England's squad.

Now, faith in the Italian's iron discipline and tactical adaptability is so strong that it is unlikely many will take issue with Capello's belief that England can flourish against the team ranked number one in the world by Fifa.

Capello's case is strengthened by the flawless start to England 's 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign and by his impressive marshalling of reduced resources in the 2-1 win in Germany in November.

History is also on Capello's side, with the Football Association historian David Barber revealing that his record in 2008 - eight wins, one draw and a a defeat to France - is the best in a calendar year since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1971.

The build-up to England's visit to Seville has been played out against the backdrop of racist abuse aimed at their players during the 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu in Madrid in November 2004.

England line-up for the national anthem in front of anti-racism banner during the friendly against Spain in November 2004 at the Estadio Bernabeu in Madrid

Spain's fans will want to show a more acceptable face off the pitch - while England will want to be far more presentable on it.

It is a chance for England to demonstrate how far they have travelled since that night when they were embarrassed by the technical ability of their opponents, despite the narrow victory margin.

Spain will have most of the outstanding squad that deservedly claimed the Euro 2008 crown against Germany in Vienna on show.

This makes the friendly - another word Capello struggles to find in his footballing glossary - a perfect opportunity for England to measure their progress against the standard of opposition they will need to conquer to claim the game's biggest prize in South Africa next year.

England's win in Germany was built on the basic principles of a coach picking a well-balanced team containing players with total confidence in his methods. The secret lay in Capello's simplicity.

Michael Carrick starred for England against Germany

Germany also fielded a weakened team, but the performances of Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick in midfield, plus Stewart Downing's finest England display demonstrated Capello's motivational and organisational powers.

It may have been, to some extent, England's under-card, but Capello could still mould them into a unit capable of getting results.

Capello himself wants England to be tested by the best around before they travel to South Africa. He will use Wednesday as a yardstick for the development of his England squad.

Rio Ferdinand subscribes to this theory and insists England "can beat anyone on the planet".

These were words we heard often under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, but there is a different dynamic in this England squad. The notion that players are simply paying lip service to the idea of world domination is fading - under Capello they actually believe it.

Capello will surely start with his strongest available side, and England will be tested all over the pitch by a gifted Spanish side who will regard a victory as another feather in their cap.

England will be placed under pressure in defence, where they will be confronted by the world-class strike duo of Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Valencia's David Villa, but Spain's midfield is also liberally sprinkled with players of the highest calibre.

It is a huge examination of Capello's England - but one the coach believes they are capable of passing.


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