They ran themselves almost to a standstill and left their hearts out on Estadio Charrua but the gallant New Zealand girls couldn't keep their fairytale run alive at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay this morning.

The Leon Birnie-coached Kiwi teenagers went down 2-0 to Spain in the first semifinal in Montevideo, conceding a goal in each half but conspicuously dictating terms in the first spell without any dividends.

On reflection at the ground at halftime of the second semifinal between Canada and Mexico, Birnie felt his troops not only competed against Spain but also "took it to them".

"In the first half we made them make mistakes in their own half to create opportunities from it," said the Napier mentor who Central Football employs at Park Island.

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"If I'm honest, I was extremely disappointed to go into the sheds at halftime 1-nil down because I thought we had created all the opportunities and I was quite comfortable with the flow of the game," he said with rain perhaps working in the favour of the Kiwis and slowing down Spain's possession-based play.

New Zealand's Macey Fraser came closest to scoring in the 28th minute when a 25m shot from an acute angle forced the Spain goalkeeper Catalina Coll to push the ball with her fingertips on to the crossbar before deflecting it back into play.

But it was the favourites, who have never lost to the Kiwis, who drew first blood in the 39th minute when Eva Navarro crossed the ball not far from the right corner of the attacking third but rightback Hannah Mackay-Wright could not clear convincingly. The ball fell into the box, enabling Spain captain Claudia Pina to pounce and drill it past goalkeeper Anna Leat for a 1-0 lead.

Mackay-Wright looked distraught but centreback Aneka Mittendorff noticeably consoled her in a deft touch of captaincy to encourage her to soldier on.

The writing was on the wall in just the 47th minute when Spain's Irene López volleyed a Mackay-Wright header just inside the right upright from the stock-exchange area, giving an unsighted Leat no chance to trail 2-0.

The Kiwis tried to play catch-up footy in the last 20 minutes but the European champions showed why they had 67 per cent of possession to frustrate any potential waves of attack the underdogs had in mind.

New Zealand's best moment in second spell came from substitutes in the 83rd minute.

Britney Cunningham-Lee picked out Ayla Pratt with a perfect through ball but Coll put her body on the line to put off Pratt from point-blank range.

The Spaniards had 14 shots at goal, finding five on target compared with the New Zealanders' 10 and four. The winners also eked out 6-4 corner kicks.

That defender Aixa Salvador picked up the first and only yellow card of game in 87th minute for trip on Cunningham-Lee showed it was a game played in good spirit for the best part of the affair.

New Zealand coach Leon Birnie shouts instructions to his girls during the Fifa Under-17 World Cup semifinal match against Spain, in Montevideo, Uruguay, this morning. Photo/AP
New Zealand coach Leon Birnie shouts instructions to his girls during the Fifa Under-17 World Cup semifinal match against Spain, in Montevideo, Uruguay, this morning. Photo/AP

Birnie said it was always going to be extremely difficult to claw their way back from 2-0 down early in the second spell.

The teenagers had captured the imagination of New Zealand during their campaign, dominating headlines in the media and even receiving a congratulatory message from the Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern this week.

Fans will argue the youngsters were winners already after creating history on history to take a New Zealand age-group team to the last four where no other team from the country have ever gone.

"The girls are disappointed because, you know, you are one match away from a world cup final so that's what people are forgetting," he said.

"Virtually, if we had won that game we would have been in the world cup final so it was a huge position to be when we first come over."

However, he had addressed the players straight after the semifinal today to help them exorcise any demons that they might be grappling with.

"Yes we'll be disappointed tonight [Uruguay time] because that's natural but we need to reflect on how good this journey has been and how well you've done."

Birnie said he had impressed on the players need to regather and refocus on getting back out on the park in the next 48 hours to try to claim a bronze medal in the playoff for third, which would be in itself a huge achievement.

"It has been a dream run," he said but felt the Kiwi teenagers were definitely good enough to return home with a medal.

"For us, physically we've got to do everything right now because we only have two days to be prepared so we have to recover well, eat well and sleep well when we find out who we're playing," he said of the kick off against Canada on Sunday morning (NZ time).

Birnie said his young charges were well aware of the expectations of a nation, including those from parliamentarians and sport journalists, but they had left nothing in their tanks.

"It's just been crazy and really, really appreciated and while we didn't get the result everyone who watched us will know the girls did their best out there and we just couldn't do it today."

Having beaten Canada 2-1 means the New Zealanders know what their playoff opposition are about but "that was five games ago because it'll be a different story now".