Their brave bid for an Olympic medal ended in despair, as the Black Sticks women fell 1-3 to Great Britain in the bronze-medal playoff today.
An even first half saw the game locked scoreless at halftime and New Zealand missed a great opportunity to grab the lead just seconds after the restart, when Katie Glynn, sporting a massive bandage on the head wound suffered during the semifinal, found the post with her shot past the goalie.
But from that point, the contest belonged to the home side, which opened the scoring in the 45th minute with a penalty corner converted by Alex Danson.
All three British goals came from penalty corners, with Christa Cullen firing home in the 59th minute for the second and the third coming from a variation, deflected home by Sarah Thomas in the 63rd minute.
New Zealand clawed one back in the dying minutes, when Stacey Michelsen also made the most of a penalty-corner opportunity, but the clock was against them.
"I don't think we came prepared well enough," admitted coach Mark Hager to SKY Sport. "There were too many players a bit apprehensive - maybe they got overawed by the crowd.
"GB outgunned us all game - we were chasing and fighting, but there weren't enough players stepping up in big games.
"Hopefully, that's a lesson learnt by this young group. You've got to earn bronze and silver medals."
This Black Sticks line-up has an average age of 24 and only three players over 27 - goalkeeper Bianca Russell (34), Melody Cooper (29) and Krystal Forgesson (29) - so the bulk of their roster could return for the Rio Olympics in four years.
"We're pretty disappointed to leave this way," said skipper Kayla Sharland. "We worked well right through the tournament, just to let these last two games slip - that's disappointing."
The British, who were beaten by Argentina 2-1 in the
semi-finals, rode the energy of the crowd and simply looked more
'up' than the emotionally deflated New Zealand team.
"I'm absolutely blown away. I am so proud to be a part of this team. We gave everything. Two days ago bronze became our gold and we promised each other we would not go away with anything less," said Danson, who added she would celebrate with a packet of sweets as she had given them up in January.
Prince William's wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who has been a frequent spectator at the hockey tournament, went to congratulate the British side in the changing rooms, and coach Danny Kerry said his team had then spent "half an hour discussing her clothes".
- with Reuters