England coach Capello sees grounds for optimism despite loss to France
PARIS (AFP) - Fabio Capello has insisted that his bid to revive England remains on track, despite seeing his new charges comprehensively outclassed by a far from full strength France side. Franck Ribery's first-half penalty ensured David Beckham's 100th appearance for England ended in a 1-0 defeat at the Stade de France, but the narrow margin of victory disguised France's comfortable superiority and the fact that better finishing could have delivered a far more convincing win. Capello however found grounds for optimism after his second game in charge, which followed a 2-1 win over Switzerland last month. "As I told the players after the match, I'm happy with what they did. We made progress compared to the Switzerland game, even though we won that game. "Against a top level team, the players showed what they are worth. They showed me that they didn't want to lose and kept fighting right to the end. That was the most positive thing about the night, especially considering the quality of the opposition." Capello also claimed that, having switched from a 3-2-3-1 formation to a more conventional 4-4-2 at half-time, he was "a lot clearer" about how England's future direction. Beckham appears to have a role to play in that after Capello declared himself satisfied with the midfielder's contribution, which ended with a generous ovation from the entire stadium as he departed just after the hour mark. "He played like I know he can play," was the Italian's verdict. "I only subbed him because I wanted to see other players and I know well what David can do." Beckham believes he has proved his critics wrong once more, although a booking for pulling the shirt of Florent Malouda did provide ammunition for those who have suggested he no longer has the legs for international football. "Just to get the cap in the end was what I wanted, to start was a bonus," said Beckham. "I am very stubborn and things can change but I want to carry on playing for my country for many years. I proved my fitness and we (LA Galaxy) are not into our season yet. I felt a lot better tonight, I felt sharp and fresh." A couple of 50-yard crossfield passes in particular demonstrated that, as he nears his 33rd birthday, the delivery from Beckham's right boot remains as reliable as ever. But from the moment Nicolas Anelka sent a tenth-minute header from a Ribery freekick skidding past the post, France displayed a vastly superior cutting edge, and their coach, Raymond Domenech, declared himself satisfied with what he described as an important test for his players in the build-up to Euro 2008. "It was a match that was more intelligent than spectacular, but that is what we needed," Domenech said. "We could have done better in attacking terms but the Euro is two months away and we have a solid base to work with. "In the second half we had moments when we lost the ball too quickly or passes went astray which meant we did not make the most of the chances we had to launch counter attacks. "But it is always better to win than to lose and we had the chances to have scored more goals." The decisive penalty came just after half an hour thanks to right-back Francois Clerc's clever pass into the space between England's centrebacks and goalkeeper David James. Anelka's reactions were quicker than any of the England defenders and his pace over the ground was too great for James, whose late dive swept the striker's legs from under him. German referee Florian Meyer spared James the red card that would have been automatic in a competitive fixture but there was no mercy from Ribery, who sent James the wrong way from the spot. Malouda, Ribery and substitute Djibril Cisse might all have added to France's score but, with England having generated only a couple of half-chances in the entire match, they never looked like needing an additional cushion.