England prove popular opponents ahead of Euro 2012 draw

 

Italian duo Fabio Capello and Giovanni Trapattoni fly into Kiev tomorrow to discover their Euro 2012 fate, with England apparently the opponent of choice for continental Europe.

Following the declaration of striker Ola Toivonen that he would like to find England in Sweden's group for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine, a more familiar name has now said much the same thing.

Vladimir Smicer is better known for being part of Liverpool's Champions League miracle in Istanbul six years ago. Now he is the Czech Republic's general manager.

"I would like to have Holland, England and Sweden in our group," Smicer said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by coach Michal Bilek, who also went for Poland and Greece.

England feel they have progressed significantly since the last World Cup, especially now Capello has blooded so many youngsters.

And the England boss can only hope any teams wanting to face his side are made to regret it.

After all, how the draw unfolds in the ornate 'Palace of the Arts' is of critical importance to Capello.

Even though the Football Association's director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking today rather talked around the idea of Capello staying in his job beyond next summer - when the 65-year-old's present £6million-a-year contract expires - it seems almost certain to be his swansong.

And there is no way he would want such a fine career to be tarnished by the stain of two major international tournaments ending in the kind of shambolic disappointment he experienced in South Africa.

Whoever they face, England will be well prepared, but some opponents are significantly more preferable to others.

With England booked into a beautiful city-centre location in Krakow and the Republic likely to base themselves in Poland as well, Capello and Trapattoni would ideally like to end up in Group A for two reasons.

Firstly, co-hosts Poland, whose UEFA ranking of 28 is the lowest of all 16 teams competing, will be in Group A.

Secondly, the travelling involved is ideal. The combined distance from Krakow to the two allocated venues - Warsaw and Wroclaw - is 330 miles, compared to almost 1100 in Group D, which will be played in Kiev and Donetsk and feature the other co-hosts, Ukraine.

If Portugal, who knocked England out of Euro 2004 and the World Cup two years later on penalties, are the team to miss in Pot Three, Sweden are the lowest ranked of the four sides and their amazing run of games without defeat to England came to an end at Wembley last month.

However, Greece have managed just two draws in nine previous meetings with England and, despite fine form in qualifying, appear to be the opponent of choice, especially as the other member of the quartet, Croatia, have obvious form for causing England problems.

Although they might quite like the battle of wills, neither Capello nor Trapattoni should relish England and the Republic of Ireland being paired together.

History suggests such confrontations tend to become sterile wars of attrition, which does not bring the best out of either nation.

Far better to tackle Denmark, whom England defeated in Copenhagen at the start of the year, or the Czech Republic.

Not that Trapattoni will be admitting it, even by accident.

"We have respect for the other countries, bigger countries, but I have always said we must also think we have the possibility to beat them," he said.

"We have shown that we can play well against bigger countries; against France, Italy, Russia, also Brazil and Argentina.

"We can not only dream, we can believe we can play against bigger teams.

"Two years ago, we had something that was not 100% ready. Now we can have confidence."

PA

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