June 22, 2010 -- English embarrassment, French farce and German angst -- so far Europe's top footballing nations aren't covering themselves in glory at the World Cup. The next two days will decide whether South Africa 2010 will enter into the history books as a debacle for European football.
This has been a difficult World Cup for many of Europe's top national teams which are either underperforming woefully like England, struggling like Italy, Germany and Spain, or descending into outright chaos like France.
If Germany, which lost 1-0 to Serbia last Friday, fails to beat Ghana in its final group match on Wednesday night and is forced out of the tournament, it wouldn't only be surprising upset -- it could also trigger the immediate resignation of trainer Joachim "Jogi" Löw.
Bild newspaper cited unnamed people close to Löw as saying the coach would quit immediately and take full responsibility for Germany's first ever first-round exit from a World Cup.
"The burden for the future would be too great," Bild quoted a person close to Löw as saying. Löw's assistant coaches Hansi Flick and Andreas Köpke would not receive new contracts. Neither would team manager Oliver Bierhoff, who wasn't expected to stay on anyway after the World Cup following a disagreement with the German Football Association, the DFB, during contract negotiations in January.
The most likely successor to Löw would be Matthias Sammer, a former player for the East German national team and then the unified German national team until 1997.
But German football teams have a history of bouncing back in international tournaments and by comparison with France and England, the team's troubles are minor.
France's World Cup campaign turned into a farce on Sunday when the team boycotted a training session in protest at the French Football Federation's dismissal of striker Nicolas Anelka for insulting coach Raymond Domenech. Captain Patrice Evra told reporters that the French team had a "traitor" in its midst who had leaked Anelka's insult, made during last Thursday's 2-0 defeat by Mexico, to the press.
TV footage from their public training session on Sunday showed Domenech intervening to stop a furious row between Evra and fitness coach Robert Duverne, who hurled away his stopwatch as he walked off the pitch. The row led to the resignation of the team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, who said: "They don't want to train, it's a scandal. It's a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train. I'm resigning, I'm leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I'm going back to Paris."
France won the World Cup in 1998 and were runners-up in 2006 but has been in poor form in recent years and is sorely missing Zinedine Zidane, the footballing giant who retired in 2006.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stepped in, asking his sports minister to prolong her stay in South Africa to speak to the captain and coach on Monday.
France has one more group match, against hosts South Africa on Tuesday. The French players returned to training on Monday, ending their boycott, but Domenech has admitted that after the defeat by Mexico, France will need a miracle to progress. They have just one point from their first two matches and are three behind Uruguay and Mexico.
Meanwhile, in the England camp, Italian coach Fabio Capello was quoted in The Sun newspaper as saying: "It does feel like the last two years have been a waste of time. I don't know why or how the players have arrived at this point."
England needs a win against Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon to progress to the knockout stages. Given their astonishingly weak performances in tepid draws against the United States and Algeria, an embarrassing group stage exit is looking like a very real possibility.
Capello, too, is expected to quit if England exits the World Cup on Wednesday, just three weeks after he renegotiated his four-year contract. The England team played so badly in Saturday's goalless draw against Algeria that its own fans booed the players.
Midfielder Frank Lampard dismissed media reports that there were rifts in the England squad. But commentators in England are starting to criticize Capello's discplinarian style, something he had been praised for in the past.
Britain's Mirror newspaper slammed what it called Capello's "unblinking, unsmiling, unbending regime" which was having a negative impact on the players quarantined in a hotel outside the small village of Phokeng.
"The England players have been subjected to the regime for close to five weeks now and it has become brutally obvious that it is having a damaging effect on morale," wrote the Mirror. "Players have reached breaking point at Stalag Capello."