Is the fan base for the World Cup half full of it or half witted? Not unlike the competitive spirit of the Olympic Games, nationalistic fervor tends to run rampant every four years in pursuit of the top position in world football. This is not to be confused with the helmet and padding show that Americans tolerate between beer commercials, although some of us may be forgiven for comparing the two when American Budweiser reigns as the official beer of the World Cup.

In the games so far Middle Eastern countries have not fared well. None are expected to move along to the next stage. Ironically, this puts Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Iran on an equal footing with the United States, whose chances of moving on hinge upon an unlikely scenario with Team USA having to beat Ghana.

Ah Ghana, who would have imagined the pivotal role this team is playing in the global picture? There might have been a glimmer of neighbourly pride from Arab countries when tiny Ghana not only kept the Czechs in check but checkmated them 2-0. But after Ghana scored, one of their defenders naively got caught on offense when he pulled out and waved an Israeli flag. It turns out that the player, Pantsill, plays professionally in Israel and claims he was just trying to thank his fans. With Hamas and Israel exchanging volleys of a lethal kind in Gaza it is hard to imagine how Pantsill could fail to see that waving an Israeli flag where there was no nationally compelling reason was not just the excitement of the moment. [For various reactions, see the postings on al-Jazeera.]

All of a sudden an otherwise expectedly non-eventful match between Iran and Angola tomorrow may take on a a new dimension of political interference. Hopefully no one on the Angolan team plays professionally in Israel. But what about retaliation from the Persian strikers? Might President Ahmadenijad send in a play from Tehran to have one of the team players pull out a picture of Ayyatollah Khomeini? And what about the fireworks that might come of Saudi Arabia vs. Spain? Revenge for the expulsion of the Moors in 1492? Thank heavens the Danish team did not make the semi-finals. Can you imagine if one of their blond and similarly dull-witted players pulled out a newspaper caricature of Muhammad and waved it for the entire sporting world to see?

Daniel Martin Varisco