With all the McChrystal news today (is the adjective McChrystalline?), I haven't said anything about USA 1, Algeria 0. As the paper at left shows, the loss got bigger headlines in Algiers than the win did in the US, not to mention a bigger picture than President Bouteflika's. But then Algeria takes soccer seriously: remember the great Algeria-Egypt soccer wars of last fall? (here here, here, here, here, and of course, the apotheosis here.) And as the one Arab team to make it to this year's world cup, I'm sure the game was closely watched across the Middle East (except for those jihadis who followed this fatwa, which says the World Cup is forbidden: sorry, guys, you're limited to horse races, camel races, and archery, according to this).
I'll admit to not being much of a sports jock at best, and I'm also of a generation for whom soccer was a "foreign" game. But in our region, it often is more than just a game. Obviously, sports in developing countries are a major nation-building, nationalism-reinforcing element, not just a pastime. Can you imagine the US having a Ministry of Sports? Can you imagine a Middle Eastern country without one?