When the Football Ferns travelled to Ohio to play the best soccer team in the world in October, their chances of snatching a result registered somewhere between slim and none.
Their opposition were the United States, a side whose squad, stats and reputation had reached legendary status after going 76 games unbeaten at home. Seven days earlier the USA had cruised to their tenth consecutive win over the Ferns, thrashing them 4-1 in San Francisco. If that wasn't daunting enough, the aggregate scores from all games between the two sides stood at 42-3.
But this was not just any Football Ferns side. After beating world heavyweights Brazil and China en route to winning the Valais Cup in September, they had a new sense of empowerment and used it to secure one of the great results in the history of the women's game in New Zealand.
The drama started in the 10th minute when Ferns keeper Erin Nayler saved a penalty from 2012 FIFA Player of the year Abby Wambach. The veteran striker has scored 162 international goals but Naylor had her number, and helped silence the rowdy Stadium full of 16,000 fans with a super save.
The Ferns defended valiantly for 40 minutes, but just before halftime the US struck. Sydney Le Roux smacked one home from the edge of the box to give the US a 1-0 win. It looked like normal service had resumed.
But Ferns striker Hannah Wilkinson had other plans. The 20-year old striker knew she wouldn't get many chances against world class opposition but needed to be clinical when they did. And in the 87th minute she made no mistake.
"Stotty (Rebekah Stott) stepped into the midfield on the ball and after beating two or three players, played me through. I took a touch toward goal and saw that Hope Solo was quite far to her left so I just chipped it past her," Wilkinson said.
"I had to check to see if I had actually scored it because the crowd was so silent, it was the weirdest thing. I had a few friends there watching and they said they were screaming and got some death stares from the US fans, but I couldn't hear them."
The result capped a stunning year for the 17th world-ranked Ferns, who will fly up the new FIFA rankings released tomorrow after their superb run picking up results against three teams ranked in the top 16 in the world.
What they said:
US goal scorer Syndey Leroux:
"Anytime the U.S. women's national team ties, it's a loss for us. We're very proud. I think we should have won. We're going to be upset about this for a while. But we'll move on."
"In the second game our composure on the ball was a lot better. We kept it more, didn't panic as much, created more chances and managed to put one away.
"Erin saved Abby Wambach's penalty and that was the highlight for me in that game. That was awesome.
"Rebekka Stott did a great job of holding off Abby Wambach for that whole game.
"It shows how far we've come. We've had really good results in Cyprus and a really good 4-0 win against China and 1-0 against Brazil, it just shows our improvements.
"It's the USA, they are the best in the world and to get a tie against them is significant. It almost feels like a win but we don't want to view it as that because we want to beat teams like that.
"You could see it in the faces of the US girls that they treated it like a loss."