Japan 2 Football Ferns 1
A strong second half performance by the Football Ferns went unrewarded overnight as Japan found a late winner to claim a 2-1 victory at the Kincho Stadium in Osaka.
Facing a 1-0 deficit at halftime after a 38th minute opener from Takase Megumi, New Zealand midfielder Kirsty Yallop brought the Football Ferns level with a scorching strike from the edge of the box just after the hour mark as Tony Readings' side pressed for their maiden victory over the world number three team.
But the Nadeshiko broke New Zealand hearts when Yuika Sugasawa headed home an 86th minute Japanese corner to secure the result.
The New Zealand side pushed until the final whistle, Amber Hearn coming close to a stunning late equaliser - the Football Ferns striker seeing her volley arrow inches wide of the Japan goal in stoppage time.
Hearn's effort underlined the quality of the second half showing from the Football Ferns - ranked 20th the in world - with the visitors getting good reward from a pressing game which put their opponents under increasing pressure, resulting in more composed and penetrative periods of possession which were rare for the visitors in the first period.
Speaking after the match, Readings said the team settled better into their own identity in the second half, showing exactly what the team is capable of against the world's best sides.
"I think what the first half showed is that we haven't been together for a while and we found it hard to keep possession and we also found it hard to stop them switching play," Readings said.
"It was one of those halves when we just had to dig in and against Japan you've got to expect that. Even the best teams in the world have to do that for periods against Japan."
"From a defensive point of view in the first half we sat back a bit too much and Japan penned us back in our own half and that's not what the Football Ferns are about."
After conceding late in the first period, halftime offered the team the chance to regroup and reconnect to their philosophy.
"The overall message was quite basic, we asked the team to step higher up the pitch and get closer to their players to put more pressure on.
"In possession the message was to be a lot more patient with our play and shift the ball quicker across the back and using the fullbacks and getting them on the ball a lot more.
That message produced tangible results in the 62 minute when the Football Ferns neatly played their way through some intense Japanese pressure deep in their own half, moving the ball to edge of the penalty area where Yallop applied a clinical finishing touch with a superbly struck drive.
The nature of the equaliser highlighted the way forward the New Zealand side with Readings' disappointment over the result tempered by the levels the team reached in the second period.
"We wouldn't have been happy to draw after the second half performance so we're certainly disappointed to lose the game.
"But we can take definitely take encouragement from the fact that we've outplayed one of the best teams in the world at keeping the ball."
Japan 2 (Takase Megumi 38', Yuika Sugasawa 86')
New Zealand 1 (Kirsty Yallop 62')