Following New Zealand’s stunning late equalizer against Slovakia, North Korea’s hang-tough performance against Brazil, and Switzerland’s shocking 1-0 victory over tournament-favorite Spain at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, scientists at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., have announced that the statement, “‘There are no easy games in international football [soccer],’ is no longer an empty platitude employed by unresourceful beat writers or players falling back on rote responses, but has now passed into the realm of established scientific fact.”
“This is quite a breakthrough,” said Enrico Bombieri, the Institute’s IBM von Neumann Professor of Mathematics. “It’s a landmark moment.”
The faculty-wide response at the Institute—which was founded in 1930 and has been home to such luminaries as physicists Albert Einstein and Freeman Dyson, mathematician John Nash and historian George Kennan—was unanimous.
“As stunning as this conversion is,” said Giles Constable, Professor Emeritus of Historical Studies, “the evidence is incontrovertible. I mean, New Zealand? Honestly. Andrew Boyens, who can’t even get a game with the New York Red Bulls down the road in Harrison, N.J., made that team. And they’re drawing Slovakia, which starts Liverpool centerback Martin Skrtel? Preposterous.”
Patricia Crone, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Historical Studies, echoed the Institute’s official statement: “This had been a phrase typically employed by hack journalists, or exhausted players negotiating routine postgame interviews, but now, it’s undergone a kind of chemical reaction in the wake of these results. Seriously, did you see the first half of the North Korea game?”
“Before they kicked off against Brazil,” added Constable, “North Korea forward Jong Tae-Se not only said that he would score a goal in every game of the tournament, but also that his team ‘was brave and we can win against Brazil.’ The logical, universal response at the time was, ‘Pffft. You’ll be lucky to escape that game with a 5-0 thrashing.’ Yet look what happened.”
Constable went on to praise North Korea’s organization on defense and the confidence and skill with which they went forward on offense. “They possessed the ball, they attacked Brazil at times. That’s the team ranked 105th in the world, mind you, up against the world No. 1. It was more than impressive. It was paradigm-shifting.”
Even the England-U.S. game, argued Crone, contributed to the transformation. “Here in the U.S., ” said Crone, “we knew the Americans had a fighting chance. But in England, despite the national-team’s well-documented history of psychological fragility in international competition, the vast majority of the populace was expecting a two- or three-goal win. In the end, they were fortunate Altidore didn’t win it for the U.S. after he skinned Carragher.… It’s just a different world now. The time has come to accept that as rational fact, instead of lazy phrase-making.”
As for 250-1 longshot Switzerland’s stunning upset of Spain, a team that had been beaten only once in its past 50 games (by the U.S., it should be noted), Bombieri says he was shocked. “But the next time it happens—and it probably will—I won’t be surprised.
“Look, I have more than a quarter-century of experience at the highest levels of scholarship,” Bombieri continued, chuckling, “so I can scarcely believe I’m about to say it, but it’s true: There are no easy games in international football.”