The Junior Football Ferns have gone out of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in disappointing fashion after losing 4-0 to Mexico in a game that could have seen them through to the quarterfinals.
After a 2-1 win over Switzerland and a 2-2 against eventual group winners Japan, New Zealand just needed to avoid defeat to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time at an age group FIFA women's tournament and looked relatively comfortable at halftime with close to 70 per cent of possession and the match scoreless.
Once Sofia Huerta stole in between Kiwi goalkeeper Erin Naylor and Rebecca Burrows and edged Mexico ahead two minutes into the second half however, the Junior Football Ferns were chasing the game.
Coach Aaron McFarland was forced to roll the dice with substitutions but Mexico ensured the gamble didn't pay off striking three times in the final 16 minutes as the game became increasingly stretched.
A deep cross was met at the back post by Natalia Gomez Junco for Mexico's second in the 74th minute, substitute Yamile Franco headed in from a 85th minute corner and Olivia Jimenez padded the score line with a well taken fourth goal three minutes from fulltime.
New Zealand coach Aaron McFarland said the goal just after halftime changed the game.
"Going into that game as much as we talk about having a positive mindset, in the back of your mind it's hard to get rid of that nagging thought telling you just need a draw, so when they score that first goal the mental focus now needs to shift. I didn't think we were ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck from the outset.
"We're happy to keep the ball but at certain times when we are talking about being positive and trying to win the game it didn't feel at times like we had full belief in our own abilities to get on the ball in the final third and make things happen.
"That'll come with more exposure. Playing more games, more frequently will help our players get over the fear of trying to play that style of football under that sort of pressure.
"I hope people back home have taken notice. There's huge potential for the women's game in New Zealand to blossom and there's a lot of good role models even in this team for young girls to aspire to emulate, and hopefully the positives from this campaign will drive more growth and more success."
In Thursday's first two quarterfinals Mexico will meet Nigeria who sealed top spot in Group B with a 4-0 win over Italy, and Group A winners Japan - who beat Switzerland 4-0 today - will take on Group B runners up Korea Republic who earned their ticket to Tokyo with a 2-0 win over Brazil.
The final placings in Groups C and D and the makeup of Friday's second two quarterfinals will be decided on Monday when pool play concludes.
- © Fairfax NZ News