Follow live as the Silver Ferns take on the Australian Diamonds at the Netball World Cup.

A gripping one-goal defeat to Australia has the Silver Ferns on course for a likely World Cup semifinal with England.

With the Ferns and Australia already locked in the final four regardless of the result, this 50-49 first loss of the tournament in Liverpool is not a hammer blow to New Zealand's prospects.

It does, however, offer hope that the Ferns can again compete with the world's best after winning the third quarter by two goals and the fourth by three.

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New Zealand are ranked fourth in the world and after this spirited effort – surging back from eight goals down in the second quarter – they may feel encouraged about their chances of making the final.

Maria Folau had a shot to tie the game at the death – after a Jane Watson tip gave New Zealand a chance. Folau's shot hit the rim to bounce away, giving Australia the victory.

Australia, world No 1 and defending champions, were always favoured to claim the first genuine contest for both teams at this World Cup – the Diamonds have now won 12 of the last 13 clashes with the Ferns but they had to survive a proper late hurry up.

Australia's victory secures top seeding in the group and the potentially favourable semifinal opponent, though that won't be confirmed until the hosts play South Africa in their final match on Friday morning (NZT).

After five cakewalk victories for both teams there was a noticeable lift in quality and intensity.

Noeline Taurua predicted she would know within first five minutes of this match where the Silver Ferns sat among the contenders for the title.

The start was positive but by the second half changes came thick and fast with Folau and Casey Kopua among those benched in the third quarter.

Taurua opted for Katrina Rore at wing defence over Karin Burger and the Silver Ferns held their own in the opening quarter to establish an early two goal lead.

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Physical, dogged defence epitomised the tightly fought contest.

Whether it was Australia's supreme, smothering one-on-one marking or New Zealand's zone defence, finding passages into the shooting circle proved difficult for both teams throughout.

The Ferns harnessed patience on attack – they were prepared to go back to move forward and often used all three seconds before a safe option presented.

As the match wore on, Australia's defensive pairing of Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce enjoyed the upper hand.

A miss, turnover, tip, penalty and suddenly momentum swing Australia's way, allowing them to snaffle back a three-goal advantage which they then doubled to lead 28-22 at halftime.

Kopua attempted to inspire with tips and intercepts but, under such pressure, New Zealand's midcourt were guilty of throwing away possession.

As Australia slowly turned the screws, Taurua turned to her bench two minutes before half time by injecting Bailey Mes for Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and pushing Folau into goal attack, in search of more movement at the attacking end.

Taurua then threw Shannon Saunders into wing attack for Gina Crampton in the third quarter. And in the fourth, Kopua re-joined the fray in partnership with Rore at the defensive end, and Burger coming into wing defence. Folau also returned for the final two minutes of the match.

Those changes helped spark the fightback and leaves the Ferns with plenty of different combinations for their semifinal showdown.