You could win a few bar bets with this one.
Here’s a trivia question:
When was that one loss?
Anyone who was following women’s soccer in the summer of 2011 would immediately say that year’s World Cup final — the stunning, electrifying, spectacular (if you’re Japanese), heartbreaking (if you’re American) match in which Nadeshiko Japan took home its first and only world championship trophy.
It was an upset that would be burned into the brains of the U.S. players, haunting and motivating them for the next four years.
That would be an excellent answer to the trivia question.
Except that it’s wrong!
Yes, unfortunately, Japan did win the World Cup on July 17, 2011, in front of 48, 817 fans at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany.
But it wasn’t a win.
Not technically speaking.
That’s because the Japanese took the title in a shootout, after the two teams ended 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time deadlocked at 2-2.
And according to the rules and customs of world football, a game that ends with the two teams tied is classified as a draw — even when the teams go on to decide a winner through penalty kicks, as they must, for example, to determine the winner of a tournament.
So, according to the record books, on July 17, 2011, Japan and the United States played to a draw.
Japan won the World Cup. But it didn’t win the game that determined the winner of the World Cup.
But every sport has its absurdities, many involving terminology, or what things are called. (We could start with the word “soccer,” a term that isn’t used in the vast majority of the world’s countries where soccer is the No. 1 sport.)
Take baseball. There’s first base, second base, and third base, but home plate. Why isn’t it home base? Or fourth base?
The pitcher throws the ball, but if he throws too many balls (and not enough strikes), he won’t have his job for long.
In American football — or, as it’s called in America, “football” — there’s a player whose job is to kick the ball downfield if his team hasn’t sufficiently advanced during its possession.
He kicks the ball, but he’s not the “kicker.” That’s someone else.
There’s a player on offense known as the tackle, but he’s not allowed to tackle anybody. There’s also a defensive tackle. Same name, different position. He is strongly encouraged to tackle people.
If you’re tackled with the ball in your own end zone, that’s a safety, and the other team gets two points. This safety has nothing to do with the defensive player known as a safety. (But the safety is sometimes the player who makes a tackle in the end zone, resulting in a safety.)
In basketball, the backcourt is the part of the court that’s not the front court. It’s also the collective term for a team’s two guards, the point guard and the shooting guard (both of whom can and do shoot).
And anyone on the team, not just the two players who comprise the backcourt, can be called for a backcourt violation.
Few things in sports are more absurd than the scoring system in tennis. (I was not surprised to learn that it was designed by the French; I once had a friend who owned a Renault.)
A tennis game starts with the score at love — an odd choice for a word that means “zero.” From there, the score jumps to 15, then to 30, then to … 40.
Why 40? Why not 45?
Better still, why not 1, 2, and 3?
Golf is almost as bad. There are two scoring terms that make sense: par and hole-in-one. The rest — birdie, eagle, bogey, double bogey — sound like something a 5-year-old made up.
And except for the sand traps and the lakes, everything on a golf course is green. So calling the greens greens is not instructive.
And woods aren’t made of wood, and irons aren’t made of iron.
Yes, I know they were at one time. But at one time, the Dutch wore wooden shoes, and no one in Amsterdam today refers to his Doc Martens as “woods.”
So, granted, it makes no sense. But the 2011 World Cup victory wasn’t Japan’s one official win over the United States.
So what was?
A game on March 5, 2012, in the Algarve Cup.
Japan beat the Americans 1-0, and went on to take the championship.
Now you know.
Next: The greatest not-a-win in Japan’s history — Part II