Fabio finally understands English players

England manager Fabio Capello watches over his players
England manager Fabio Capello watches over his players
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Life under Fabio Capello in England’s World Cup base in South Africa sounded only marginally less boring than a day in the launderette.

A draconian, joyless boot-camp locked away from the world was mirrored in dull, listless performances.

But give Capello some credit for learning a lesson from that.

Ahead of the European Championships next summer, he is taking his squad to the relaxed, but lively, Costa del Sol in Spain.

It seems he now understands that the average English player likes to mix the hard work on the training ground with a bit of banter, a few laughs – and why not just the odd beer or game of golf?

This has to be good news, so long as some do not see this as a licence for late nights on the lash.

The trick is to ease the monotony of hotel life in the long breaks between games and produce the players mentally and physically fresh.

That is not easy coming off the back of a long and demanding European season.

But all the other teams have exactly the same problem, and it is the ones which get the work-rest-play balance right who will succeed.

England’s draw gives them every chance of reaching the quarter-finals, if they can defy their dreadful record in this competition.

Not so clever is the near certainty that England would have to play Italy or Spain in the last eight (Ireland’s hopes against those two in group C look slim).

But without Wayne Rooney, right, even the group games are no formality.

The opening match against France is vital and represents a major obstacle.

The French are determined to erase the shame of their World Cup disgrace in South Africa, where an egocentric team refused to train at one point and were knocked out in the first round.

Recently, I spoke to coach Laurent Blanc ahead of the France v USA game and he told me: ‘The scars of what happened back then are still showing. Our fans will not forgive or forget easily and we are still on trial.’

Blanc’s team are currently unbeaten in 17, but only qualified automatically by virtue of a late penalty from Samir Nasri against Bosnia and Herzegovina in a 1-1 draw.

They looked talented but a bit ‘punchless’ in the 1-0 win I witnessed against USA.

The days of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry are gone, but they do have Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and the dangerous Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery.

Premier League talents like Evra, Nasri, Malouda, Kaboul and Cabaye are supplemented by a top keeper in Hugo Lloris and the incisive Jeremie Menez of Paris St Germain, who could emerge as a big name at Euro 2012.

With both teams desperate not to lose this massive opener, I can see a cagey draw as the outcome.

Capello’s team could easily be held to another draw by the well-organised Swedes, which might leave them needing to beat co-hosts Ukraine on their own patch.

Elsewhere, the draw has thrown up two group games which would make great finals – Spain v Italy and Germany v Holland. In the belief that Spain have just slipped a little from their plateau, a strong Germany would be my Euro 2012 bet at odds of 7/2.

As for England, there should be no silly expectations – merely the hope that a younger, fresher team under a hopefully-wiser Capello play with a style and verve so woefully missing in South Africa.