Capello relieved as England dodge Euro 2012 Group of Death
Published 21:32 02/12/11 By Martin Lipton in Kiev
Fabio Capello breathed a huge sigh of relief after England were handed a fantastic Euro 2012 chance by the group-stage draw.
Capello admitted he feared his side were set to be plunged into a nightmare section with Holland and arch-nemesis Portugal as the balls came out in Kiev’s Palace of Arts on Friday night.
Instead, the Three Lions kick off their glory bid against France in Donetsk, Ukraine on June 11, before their remaining Group D games with Sweden in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium and then co-hosts Ukraine back in Donetsk's Donbass Arena.
While England will be travelling as far as they possibly could from their base in the Polish city of Krakow, it was still the sort of draw Capello would have picked himself given the chance.
“There was a terrible moment while I waited because Group B [Holland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark] was really strong," admitted the Italian. "When we passed that group, I was happy.
"Maybe we could have got Group A, with Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, but I’m happy.
“Of course, it will not be easy. It is a well-balanced group but also teams we know well.
“We played Ukraine in qualification for the  World Cup and have played friendlies against Sweden and France.
“The most important and most difficult game will be France. It is always hard to play the first game, because of the pressure you are under.
“We know all the teams. But the thing that matters most will be the England team and the players who will stay with me in Poland and Ukraine – and that they’ll be at the top of their form.”
England’s group rivals offered mixed messages.
“I am pleased, because it means we have avoided Spain, Holland and Germany,” said Sweden coach Erik Hamren, who announced on Thursday that he wanted to meet Capello’s team. “For us in Sweden it is always fantastic to play England.”
France boss Laurent Blanc said: “It is a very equal group. I am glad we are not Denmark - who got the Group of Death. England are the favourites, but anybody can qualify.”
Blanc’s boys were the last team to beat England, at Wembley 13 months ago.
Ukraine handed Capello his first competitive defeat in Dnipropetrovsk in October 2009, although the Italian’s side had already qualified for the World Cup by the time that dead rubber kicked off.
The friendly defeat of Sweden at Wembley last month was England’s first over them since 1968. They have never beaten the Swedes in five competitive outings.
Ireland chief Giovanni Trapattoni was handed the draw he did not want, not only getting world champions Spain in Group C but also his homeland Italy, plus Croatia.
Trapattoni said: “I wanted to avoid Italy and Croatia are very strong.”
The pressure on England to win their section will be huge.
Groups D and C have been paired together, with the winners of one playing the runners-up in the other - setting up a potential quarter-final against world champions Spain if the Three Lions don't top their own pool.
England will face the Dutch at Wembley in a rearranged friendly on February 29.