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Fabio Capello has whipped England into shape since taking over as manager. ((Phil Cole/Getty Images))

England manager Fabio Capello hopes to lead the Three Lions to the final of next year's World Cup in South Africa, and there's one team in particular he would love to face: Italy.

The Italian, who took over as manager of the English national team in 2007, admitted he would love nothing more if his home country would be England's opponent in the final in Johannesburg on July 11.

"I would love a final between England and Italy. For Italy, for me and for all of us. The strangest moment will be during the national anthems. But, I am wearing a different shirt now and I must work for the England shirt," Capello told French television station Canal Plus.

Capello, whose England side has been drawn into a first-round group with the United States, Algeria and Slovenia, believes his team can go all the way and reach the final for the first time since 1966, when it won the World Cup on home soil.

"My team is strong. The fans are proud of what we've done, as are we. There's a World Cup to play for and our goal is to reach the final," Capello stated.

"We will be competitive and I repeat: We can play with our head held high against the best teams in the world."

Team in crisis

Despite featuring in the same World Cup 11 times, England and Italy have only met once in the tournament, in 1990 in Italy, when the Azzurri defeated the English 2-1 in the third-place game.

Capello took over as English manager team two years ago at a time when the team was mired in crisis and chaos after it failed to qualify for Euro 2008.

In a very short time, Capello managed to come in and, with the same players at his disposal, rebuild England into a legitimate World Cup contender.

How did he do it? By displaying all the callousness and cold-hearted calculation of a hardened Mafia boss, the Italian manager has whipped England into physical and mental shape, and let the players know, without any uncertainty, who's in charge.

"It's almost a monastic setup. It's gone from holiday camp to boot camp under Capello," Henry Winter, chief soccer correspondent for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in England, recently told CBCSports.ca.

The results speak for themselves. England easily won a difficult World Cup qualifying group with a nearly-perfect 9-0-1 record, clinching a berth with two games to spare following a comprehensive 5-1 thrashing of Croatia, the same team that eliminated England from contention for Euro 2008.

Capello, a former coach of such high-profile clubs as AC Milan, Real Madrid and AS Roma, reiterated that he would be just as tough on his players next year in South Africa.

"I don't accept lack of respect. That means be on time, respect the dressing room code and table manners," Capello told Canal Plus.