After consecutive Olympics falling agonisingly short of the medal podium, the Black Sticks women find their Tokyo quest delicately poised, with one game remaining in pool play.
After falling to archrivals Australia 1-0 in the early hours of Friday morning (NZ time), the Kiwis lie third on the ladder - ahead of Spain only on goal difference - with China three points back and lurking as their final opponents of the preliminaries on Saturday.
Even a loss to the Chinese, who have a minus-8 differential, probably won't deprive them of a spot in the quarter-finals, but this is surely not the predicament the reigning Commonwealth Games champions expected, after routing world No.2 Argentina 3-0 in their tournament opener.
At that point, a top-two pool finish looked distinctly possible, but a niggly loss to Spain - at seven, one spot behind the Kiwis on world rankings - has put a spanner in the works and if the Spaniards dispatch winless hosts Japan, the NZ women now risk facing world No.1 Netherlands in the quarters.
On the other hand a win over China and an Argentina loss to Australia could see New Zealand back in the top two, with defending champions Great Britain or 2018 World Cup runners-up Ireland likely next.
Whichever way you cut it, their path to the podium is still fraught with potential heartbreak.
The NZ women dispatched Australia in the Rio 2016 quarter-finals and battled their trans-Tasman rivals to a standstill in their latest meeting. The only goal came in the third quarter, when Emily Chalker deflected an angled shot past the ear of Sticks keeper Grace O'Hanlon.
With four minutes left, coach Graham Shaw replaced O'Hanlon with forward Olivia Shannon to desperately chase an equaliser, but to no avail.
The Hockeyroos created twice as many scoring opportunities, including three penalty corners to their rivals' one, and were well worth the result that maintained their winning record at Tokyo.
They probably can't be headed at the top of the pool - they would have to lose by eight to the South Americans.
Late in the opening quarter, NZ captain Sam Charlton copped a sickening ball to the head that felled her and although she immediately bounced back up to continue, she may sport a lump in the morning.
Meanwhile, the Black Sticks men will play for their Tokyo survival on Friday, with a loss to Argentina potentially ending their campaign at the pool stage.
Today promises to produce more rowing medals, after the pair of Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast delivered gold on Thursday.
They return to the water as part of the world champion Kiwi women's eight, while the men's big boat also appeals as darkhorses, after winning their repechage two days ago. First, Emma Twigg will try to complete her dominance of the single sculls event at Tokyo, after finishing fourth at the last two Olympics.
Swimmer Lewis Clareburt chases a medal in the 200m individual medley final, Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell play for bronze in the tennis doubles, while boxer David Nyika needs one more win to guarantee a heavyweight medal.
The Black Ferns Sevens face quarter-finals later tonight, while Dame Val Adams begins her shot put campaign with qualifying.
Men's high jump qualifying - Hamish Kerr 12:15pm NZ
Women's 5000m heats - Camille Buscomb 10pm NZ
Women's shot put qualifying - Dame Val Adams & Madison-Lee Wesche 10:25pm NZ
Men's heavyweight quarter-finals - David Nyika v Uladzislau Smiahlikau (Belarus) 4:54pm NZ
Women's racing semis & final - Rebecca Petch 1:15pm/1:45pm/2:17pm & 2:50pm NZ
Eventing dressage - Jesse Campbell 10:20pm, Jonelle Price 12:52pm NZ
Men's individual stroke play, round 2 - Ryan Fox 11:52am NZ
Men's Pool A - Black Sticks v Argentina 10pm NZ
Men's single sculls finals C - Jordan Parry 11:55am NZ
Women's single sculls finals A - Emma Twigg 12:33pm NZ
Women's eight final - Kelsey Bevan, Emma Dyke, Kirstyn Goodger, Jackie Gowler, Kerri Gowler, Ella Greenslade, Grace Prendergast, Beth Ross, Caleb Shepherd, Lucy Spoors, Phoebe Spoors 1:05pm NZ
Men's eight final - Hamish Bond, Sam Bosworth, Michael Brake, Shaun Kirkham, Matt Macdonald, Tom Mackintosh, Tom Murray, Dan Williamson & Philip Wilson 1:25pm NZ
Men's 470, Races 5 & 6 - Paul Snow-Hansen & Daniel Willcox 3:05pm NZ
Men's 49er, Races 7, 8 & 9 - Peter Burling & Blair Tuke 3:05pm NZ
Men's Laser, Races 9 & 10 - Sam Meech 5:35pm NZ
Women's 49er FX, Races 7 & 8 - Alex Maloney & Molly Meech 5:50pm NZ
Women's pool round - Black Ferns Sevens v ROC 2:30pm
Women's quarter-finals - Black Ferns Sevens 8:30pm NZ
Men's 200m individual medley final - Lewis Clareburt 2:16pm NZ
Men's doubles bronze-medal match - Marcus Daniell & Michael Venus v Kajicek/Sandgren (USA) 6pm NZ
Women's qualifying & final - Maddie Davidson 4pm & 5:50pm NZ