New Zealand's soccer women suffered another cruel blow in the Under-20 World Cup in Chile yesterday.
Leading hot favourites England 1-0 with just 30s of added time to play, an England goal ended Kiwi hopes of becoming the first New Zealand team to get beyond round play at a World Cup.
The Junior Ferns, harshly reduced to 10 players when captain Katie Hoyle was twice yellow-carded by Japanese referee Sachiko Baba, were devastated when Toni Duggan charged at the out-on-their feet New Zealand defence and unleashed a shot which ripped high into the goal.
It was the second time in three matches at the World Cup the New Zealanders had been undone by a stoppage-time strike.
They lost 3-2 in that manner to Nigeria in their opening game, beat Chile 4-3 then, needing three points yesterday to progress, were dramatically denied.
But coach John Herdman said he was really proud of the way his young charges had got to within half a minute of an historic victory over one of the best sides in the world.
"When I saw the board go up to signal five minutes of extra time, I had the sickly feeling it could be five minutes too long," said Herdman who also pointed out the four points the team had claimed with their win and draw were the most taken by a New Zealand team at a Fifa tournament.
Up against it from the outset with key midfielder Ria Percival sidelined by suspension, the Ferns threw themselves into a game few thought they could win.
Sarah McLaughlin's 27th-minute goal changed that. New Zealand had new-found belief, England a sense of panic as they contemplated an early flight home.
New Zealand battled and battled. They were down on the corner count (1-8) and in shots (9-21) but in heart and determination they gave away nothing.
England dominated the last half hour by which time Herdman was contemplating plan B and a change in formation. Sadly, as he was about to instigate that switch Hoyle was sent off.
He had no complaints about the tackle that led to her second card but strongly questioned the earlier booking.
Led by the gutsy Abby Erceg and brave goalkeeper Charlotte Wood who could barely walk let alone run at the finish, they frustrated their opponents.
In the end that pressure was rewarded, England snatched a dramatic point and a quarter-final showdown with the United States who ended their group phase with a 2-0 loss to China.
Nigeria, 2-0 winners over Chile, will play France in another quarter-final.
Erceg, who has played 12 matches at four Fifa tournaments, for just the one win and now three draws, summed it up: "I thought today was going to be our day. To lose it in the last 30 seconds of the game. It sucks."