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Tue 5 Feb 2008 07:16 AM

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Capello makes his bow

England embark on the long road to the 2010 World Cup finals under new Italian coach Fabio Capello.

As Euro 2008 hopefuls get down to the serious business of fine-tuning their squad permutations for the summer England must embark instead on the long road to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa under new Italian coach Fabio Capello.

Capello, brought in to pick up the pieces after England failed to make it to Austria and Switzerland in June, will seek to lay down an early marker on the pitch with a win over the Swiss.

Off the pitch, the dapper Italian has already asserted his authority by resisting a cacophony of calls to give the semi-retired David Beckham his 100th cap.

Beckham's last competitive game was in the defeat by Croatia in November and, even if Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger professed to be "amazed by how good" Beckham was in recent training stints with the Gunners, Capello was not convinced by the fitness levels of the man who helped his Real Madrid win La Liga last season.

"I advised him that he is still part of my plans," was as far as Capello would go as Beckham waits on a 100th cap.

One player who is part of Capello's plans for 2010 is Steven Gerrard, likely to don the captain's armband in the absence of the injured John Terry, skipper during Steve McClaren's reign.

The only fresh face in the England 23 is Aston Villa's young striker Gabriel Agbonlahor.

As with Beckham, Capello has again shown he has no room for sentiment by dropping Spurs' keeper Paul Robinson and keeping faith with Scott Carson despite his Croatian nightmare, Portsmouth veteran David James and Wigan's Chris Kirkland.

"We owe the fans and we owe ourselves because we did not qualify" for Euro 2008, Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Monday.

For those taking their place at the top table of European international football in June as England look on forlornly from afar, Wednesday is a chance to show their mettle.

Raymond Domenech's France want to go one better than the World Cup, where Italy pipped them, and has urged the squad to be single-minded in their pursuit of glory.

"We are going to look to rub out a few imperfections from the World Cup," said Domenech, insisting players must shut out all external distractions.

He would not specify what - France is not quite in England's "class" when it comes to the wives and girlfriends sideshow, but Domenech stressed: "I mean everything, even the weather - though there's not much I can do about that!"

Les Bleus' friendly with Spain in Malaga brings together two of Europe's more eccentric coaches with Domenech possibly even just bested on that score by Luis Aragones, who once stooped to racist language to gee up Jose Antonio Reyes at then Arsenal colleague Thierry Henry's expense.

Aragones appeared this week on French television insisting he and Henry have no lingering 'problems'.

But few Spanish fans have forgotten his response to the Henry incident during the 2006 World Cup when he opened his multicultural heart by declaring he had "gypsy friends, black friends - and even a Japanese friend who sexes chickens!"

Domenech has named a joint senior and A squad of 36 for the France game and an A match against the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday.

But he has snubbed veteran Juventus striker David Trezeguet, while retaining Chelsea new signing Nicolas Anelka, along with rising strike stars Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema of Lyon.

Midfielder Franck Ribery is out after picking up a thigh injury in Bayern Munich's win at Hansa Rostock over the weekend.

Aragones may give a few minutes to 17-year-old Barcelona star Bojan Krkic Perez, although the youngster is battling a bout of gastro-enteritis.

The French will meet Italy again, as well as The Netherlands and Romania, in the finals, while Spain take on Russia, Sweden and holders Greece.

In other friendly tune-ups Germany travel to Austria with the former's general manager, 1996 goalscoring champion Oliver Bierhoff, bewailing a clutch of injuries to die Mannschaft's squad.

"There are so many injuries," lamented Bierhoff.

Among those who have had to cry off are Torsten Frings and Christoph Metzelder although skipper Michael Ballack returns from an ankle injury ten months after his last start.

Three-times winners Germany face the Austrians again, Poland and Croatia in the finals.

Italy host Portugal, who bring a small squad to take on the world champions though that does include the remarkable Cristiano Ronaldo while European champions Greece, seeking to pull another rabbit out of the hat as they did four years ago, host Finland.

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