Euro media in uproar over World Cup slump

Despite backlash, networks expect ratings bump for finals

COLOGNE, Germany -- Fans' flags are flying half-mast across Europe after most of the continent's teams failed to impress in the opening week of the World Cup tournament. European media, traditionally the biggest home team boosters, have turned depressed and angry.

"What a Waste!" screamed Monday's headline of the Sun, England's biggest-selling tabloid, joining a chorus of voices on the island damning the English team's disappointing draws in its first two games against the U.S. and Algeria.

Depressed talking heads dominated British small screens all weekend as pundits analyzed in minute detail every aspect of England's under-performance.

Even the usually more measured broadsheets left no stone unturned in finding scapegoats, mulling team changes and suggesting solutions ahead of Wednesday's must-win match vs. Slovenia.

The Daily Telegraph's front page carried a banner teaser: "England in Crisis." Radio and television broadcasts across the weekend sounded like a study in grief with callers, pundits and commentators going from denial to anger, bargaining and depression with little or no sign of acceptance.

But true media fury was to be found across the channel, where the French media has joined its citizens in attacking Les Bleus (as the French team is known) for their poor performance on the field and scandalous behavior off it.

"Go f*** yourself in the a**, filthy whore!" was the very blue headline of L'Equipe, the newspaper apparently quoting French striker Nikolas Anelka's words to coach Raymond Domenech during the team's 2-0 loss to Mexico.

Anelka was expelled after mouthing off and his teammates took his side, refusing to train on Sunday. This all led to yet another media scandal in Paris.

"The ridiculous mutiny of Les Bleus," snorted newspaper Ouest France, adding: "The team is in ruin. It's a circus in South Africa." Monday's Le Monde newspaper featured the headline "The whole world against Les Bleus" and went on to describe the humiliation of the French team.

It was a similar response in Italy, with many pundits calling for the head of team coach Marcello Lippi after his side failed to win in two supposedly easy matches.

The media onslaught has been tamer in Germany and Spain, which are still giving their "boys" the benefit of the doubt.

"Spain's trajectory invites optimism, because the players and the coach have faced demanding challenges before," declared Spanish daily El Pais. Though leading German tabloid Bild warned ominously: "If we get kicked out, so will (coach) Low."

So far, however, none of the European channels carrying the World Cup games are worried the bad press will hurt their ratings. Networks ZDF, BBC and TF1 are actually expecting a ratings bump for the final do-or-die group matches.

"Everyone will be tuning in because so much is at stake," a ZDF spokesman said. "If Germany loses then ... well, I don't want to think about it."

Stuart Kemp in London, Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Eric J. Lyman in Rome contributed to this report.
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