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WE'RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK! England are beaten but Capello is confident of progress FRANCE 1 ENGLAND 0.

Byline: By FRANK MALLEY Sports Correspondent

COACH Fabio Capello is convinced his England team are on the right track despite suffering the first defeat of his 10-week reign against France.

The England boss saw goalkeeper David James bring down Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka in the first half at the Stade de France to allow Franck Ribery to score the only goal of a match in which David Beckham won his 100th cap.

It was a carbon copy of the penalty given away by James the last time England played France at Euro 2004, except that time it was Thierry Henry who was upended.

Capello, however, was upbeat.

He said: "I saw some very good things against a top-level team. That showed me what our worth is."

The 61-year-old Italian insisted the display, even in defeat, was superior to the one which beat Switzerland 2-1 in his first game in charge at Wembley last month.

And he maintained he was delighted with the performance of Beckham, who was replaced by David Bentley after 63 minutes and received a standing ovation from the entire stadium.

Capello has said he believes 32-year-old Beckham can play for his country right through to the World Cup finals in 2010 and he praised him for a performance which saw him join an exclusive club which also includes Billy Wright, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Peter Shilton.

Beckham played from the start and true to form in a career which has had its fair share of highs and lows, received a yellow card in the first half for tugging the shirt of Ribery after the Bayern Munich star had raced away from him.

He might have scored when he failed to connect with an Ashley Cole cross, and he also played the pass of the match, a raking 50-yarder straight to Steven Gerrard's feet.

Capello maintained he substituted Beckham only so that he could take a look at Blackburn man Bentley against top-rated opposition.

He said: "I'm very happy about David Beckham. He played like I know how he can play.

"I only substituted him because I wanted to see other players and I know Beckham as a player very well.

"I told the players I am happy we made progress compared to Switzerland, even though we won that game."

Capello made four substitutions at half-time, John Terry being replaced by Joleon Lescott and Stewart Downing coming on for Joe Cole, Peter Crouch for Gerrard and Michael Owen for Wayne Rooney.

It was Owen's first action under Capello but he had little opportunity to demonstrate the goalscoring form he has shown re cently for Newcastle.

Capello also switched formations. In the first half he played Rooney in a lone striker role supported by Gerrard. In the second he paired Owen and Crouch in a straight 4-4-2.

He said: "I made the teamplay two different ways so I could see many players. My ideas are now a lot clearer."

The most pleasing aspect for Capello appeared to be England's dogged spirit, the side refusing to give in even though they were outplayed for long periods by a French team missing several of their stars, including Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Louis Saha.

He said: "I'm happy the team showed they didn't want to lose. They played right to the end. This was the most positive thing considering the level of the opponent."

The truth, however, is that England at times looked as sterile as they did during their failed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Apart from a couple of headers from Gerrard they barely troubled French goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and Rooney, in particular, looked a shadow of the player who regular causes mayhem in opposition defences for Manchester United.

CAPTION(S):

MEN OF THE MOMENT: England's David Beckham walks past coach Fabio Capello as he is substituted during the friendly defeat by France at Stade de France, where he earned his 100th cap in the starting XI; DECISIVE STRIKE: France's Franck Ribery scores his penalty past England goalkeeper David James, who had upended Nicolas Anelka to concede the spot kick. It sealed Fabio Capello's first defeat as coach of England, but he was very satisfied with aspects of the performance.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2008
Words:700
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