Auckland - The Young All Whites were humbled 6-0 by a slick Japan side in the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Monterrey, Mexico today.
But they can return home with their heads held high after becoming only the second ever New Zealand side to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
"It's disappointing obviously and we were handed a footballing lesson today," coach Aaron McFarland said.
"But we will take a lot out of the experience. I was pleased with the fact that we were still brave enough to try to play out throughout the whole match - our centre-backs probably got on the ball more in this game than any of the others.
"We need to be more quick and accurate in our control and passing but Japan are a great side. They have dominated every opposition they have faced at this tournament and offer problems that are different to anything we've ever faced before."
Solid defending had been the key aspect of the Young All Whites' campaign thus far - they had conceded only two goals in their three group matches - but the outstanding Japanese were able to find plenty of ways to unlock the Luke Adams-led rearguard in a clinical display of top-class finishing.
Hideki Ishige and Fumiya Hayakawa both helped themselves to doubles while a Kip Colvey own goal and a further strike to Takumi Minamino completed the scoring and crushed New Zealand's pre-tournament goal of becoming the first side from the country to make the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup.
McFarland made two changes to the line-up that drew 0-0 against USA - Cameron Martin coming in for the suspended Cameron Howieson in midfield and Colvey replacing Harshae Raniga at left-back - and would have hoped the keep the dangerous Japanese quiet for as long as possible.
But those hopes were gone within the first 22 minutes as the impressive Ishige struck twice in as many minutes to put his side well in control at the Estadio Universitario.
Ishige's first was a spectacular effort that looped over goalkeeper Scott Basalaj from a seemingly impossible angle near the byline while his second was a simple tap-in from a Hayakawa pullback.
Ishige returned the favour in the 32nd minute when his shot broke for Hayakawa to finish off in the box before the unfortunate Colvey put a Reo Mochizuki cross into his own net just before the halftime whistle.
That left the Young All Whites with a massive hill to climb in the second period and they did their best to mount it in an improved showing.
McFarland made a double change at the break, throwing on Ken Yamamoto and Harley Tahau in an attempt to disrupt the flow of the Samurai Blue and his charges did manage to restrict their rampant opponents to fewer chances.
But they struggled to produce anything of note at the other end of the pitch and could not find a response to second-half goals to Takumi Minamino and Hayakawa, in the 56th and 80th minutes respectively.
Despite the disappointment of today's events, McFarland maintains the tournament has been a success and is proud of his players' effort in reaching the second stage.
"They know where they stand in the football world and how much hard work they have to put in to be able to get results at this level," he said.
"Getting out of the group stage and drawing with a country like the USA were both big achievements and you can't measure the amount of individual development that has taken place. The chance to be under this sort of pressure on the world stage has been a great opportunity for the boys."
Japan are set to face Brazil, who beat Ecuador earlier in the day, in the quarter-finals on 3 July while New Zealand will head for home.
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