A late penalty from Louis Fenton wasn't enough to salvage a point for New Zealand as they lost 2-1 to Croatia at the under-20 World Cup overnight.
After two defeats in their opening games, New Zealand required a high scoring win against Croatia to have any chance of progressing to the next round. With that in mind coach Chris Milicich made three changes from the team that lost to Uruguay. Crocombe and Tuiloma were restored to the starting line up and Van Elia was given his first start in the tournament.
Dinko Jelicic made nine changes to his Croatia side that drew with Uzbekistan.
Croatia looked to expose their aerial advantage early. A deep cross from the left found striker Perica unchallenged in the area. Having initially come out to try and take the cross Crocombe was left stranded as Perica's header went over the keeper to open the scoring for Croatia.
Ivancic rattled the crossbar from close range on the 28th minute and Crocombe was forced into a close range save not long later as Croatia looked to press their advantage and end the game quickly. Just before half time Tuiloma made a desperate headed clearance from almost off this line to keep the score at 1-0.
New Zealand came out with extra vigour in the second half and both Howieson and Boyd tested Sluga in the Croatian goal.
The introduction of Ante Rebic for Croatia was to prove decisive as the striker picked up the ball on the edge of the area and fired the ball into the top corner on the 75th minute.
The Junior All Whites rallied and Boyd almost scored a spectacular volley before Fenton turned sharply into the box forcing a save from Sluga. It was substitute Fenton that would earn the penalty and score to give New Zealand their first goal of the tournament.
Croatia would finish the game strongest with Miskic striking the crossbar with a long range shot.
The victory for Croatia gave them top spot in the group with Uruguay second and Uzbekistan reaching the next round as one of the best third-placed teams.
Croatia 2 (Stipe Perica 11, Ante Rebic 75) New Zealand 1 (Louis Fenton 84) HT: 1-0