The year is 2015 and Japan is still an international powerhouse.
It travels to Canada late in the spring hoping to defend its 2011 Women’s World Cup title and nearly does it, just falling short against the United States in the championship game.
Argentina is absent altogether and just a few months later its players will have nowhere to play. By the end of the summer, funding runs out and Argentina shuts down its women’s program for about two years.
Somehow, the two-year gap wasn’t a death knell for Argentina’s 2019 Women’s World Cup hopes. Argentina started playing again in 2017 and finished third in Copa America, earning a spot in a playoff to win its way to France for the 2019 World Cup.
This all made for one of the most unlikely opening-week matchups of the World Cup, pitting Japan and Argentina against each other in a Group D match and, somehow, Argentina played to a 0-0 draw against Japan in Paris.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the World Cup is how Argentina, which had an all-time scoring differential of negative-31 in two previous World Cup appearances, secured its first point on the world’s biggest stage.
In a group with Japan and England, Argentina looked like one of the biggest long shots to advance and it probably still is, but Argentina played a perfect upset-manufacturing style.
Argentina was content to let Japan control possession because it was dropping nine or 10 defenders at a time, just searching for maybe one counterattack to run through Estafania Banini, Argentina’s one player with an elite international track record who does things like this:
When the final whistle blew after surviving a final corner kick in stoppage time, goalkeeper Vanina Correa collapsed to her knees and buried her head in her hands. Tears welled in her eyes as her defense embraced her on the turf at Parc de Princes. and still as she shook hands with her opponents.
Twelve years ago, Correa was in net when Argentina played its first-ever World Cup game and gave up 11 goals to Germany. In 2012, she decided to retire after the birth of twins. It seemed like redemption would never come.
She came back in 2017 and it still seemed unlikely because of where Argentina stood. Somehow, she was back in net Monday to anchor the biggest shutout in team history.