'No fear' as England eye Croatia revenge

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The Independent Online

Fabio Capello began the international season in upbeat fashion last night by declaring that Spain, the European champions, may be the best team in the world but that England can beat them. They will not have the chance to prove it for some time, but England followers still suffering from the shock of missing Euro 2008 will settle for defeating two other teams who were present last summer: the Czech Republic, who visit Wembley in a friendly on Wednesday, and Slaven Bilic's Croatia, where Capello takes his troops in September.

The latter game, he rightly says, is the toughest in the World Cup qualifying group that begins four days earlier with what should be a stroll in the Barcelona Olympic park against Andorra. Capello insists that Wednesday's game is being taken very seriously, even if the squad will be without several players, including Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves, Gary Neville and possibly Wayne Rooney.

"Obviously not all the players are fit at this moment, coming at the beginning of the season," he said. "We have three weeks before the Croatia game to be fit and ready for the most difficult game in the group. But we are happy to play [them] so early. The Czech game is important because I hope to get the answers I am looking for from the players." The question posed to those players will be whether they have recovered mentally from the setbacks in the last campaign during the two games against Croatia: a 2-0 defeat in Zagreb, with Paul Robinson's famous miskick, and the demoralising 3-2 home defeat last November that cost Steve McClaren his job, when only a draw was required to qualify.

"When I started all the players were a bit scared," Capello said. "Their minds were closed after failing to qualify for Euro 2008. For the players it felt like an examination when I started. They have to play with the same spirit they play with [for] their clubs. I'll try to transfer that. It's impossible to lose everything just because we didn't qualify for the Euro. In the last four friendly games I saw a step forward with each game towards recovering the right mentality."

In his four games last spring after succeeding McClaren, Capello oversaw some mixed performances, which brought wins against Switzerland (2-1), the United States (2-0) and Trini-dad and Tobago (3-0), plus a defeat (1-0) by France in Paris. He deliberately used four different captains in Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and David Beckham, and will announce on Tuesday which of them is to take the position permanently. Beckham, who was watched by Ray Clemence playing for LA Galaxy on Thursday, will be in the squad but the fav-ourites are Ferdinand and Terry.

"Three months ago, nobody spoke about Spain," Capello said. "Now they have the best team in the world. But I think that we have a different style and we can beat them. I am very confident in my team."