Gabi Rennie's late consolation goal has not been enough to steer the Football Ferns home to a much-needed win over Australia, as New Zealand's Tokyo Olympics campaign officially kicked off with a 2-1 defeat.
Drawn into the Games' 'Pool of Death', the Kiwis desperately required victory to keep their hopes of progressing to knockout play alive against rivals they hadn't beaten for 27 years.
They arrived in Tokyo with no competitive outings for 16 months and took most of their opening fixture to regain the cohesion required at this level.
Australia looked sharp from the start, putting the Ferns under immense pressure that finally took its toll midway through the opening half, when the NZ defence failed to clear the ball and Tameka Yallop pounced on a through ball to score.
Their lead doubled in the 33rd minute, when Matildas star Sam Kerr latched onto a corner kick at the near post, guiding it towards Ferns keeper Erin Nayler, who managed only to deflect the ball into the cross bar and across the goal-line.
Holding a two-goal lead at halftime, Australia fired seven shots - four on goal - with four corner kicks. New Zealand had no shots and no corners.
New Zealand showed more enterprise after the restart, with CJ Bott immediately putting their first shot on goal.
Veteran striker Hannah Wilkinson chased a long ball into the goal area and beat Aussie keeper Lydia Williams, but could not find a teammate with the goal wide open.
Coach Tom Sermanni injected Paige Satchell and Daisy Cleverley, looking for the goal that might bring them back into the contest.
Midfielder Katie Bowen floated a long-range freekick to the far post, forcing Williams into a rare save - and New Zealand's only corner.
With time running out, Sermanni brought Rennie on for CJ Bott, who already had a yellow card and whose frustration was beginning to spill over.
Into added time, Wilkinson crossed into the area and finally found two teammates in front of goal. Ria Percival met the cross with her head, nodding back to Rennie, who glanced the ball past Williams and inside the far post.
The Ferns chased a miracle draw over the closing 90 seconds, but could not snatch the result away from the Aussies.
Earlier in Group G, Sweden - silver medallists at Rio 2016 - shocked the world champion United States 3-0, suggesting Australian and New Zealand will have their work cut out upsetting these two powerhouses of women's football.
Australia 2 (Yallop 21', Kerr 33') NZ 1 (Rennie 90' + 1)
Coming up Thursday
While the Kiwi women will struggle to progress from group play, the OlyWhites men have high hopes of advancing from a group that includes South Korea, Romania and Honduras.
All three opponents are ranked well ahead of New Zealand (118th) in men's world rankings - Korea 38th, Romania 37th and Honduras 64th - but the presence of All Whites stars Chris Wood and Winston Reid has buoyed their prospects.
Forget for a minute that the South Americans made the semis five years ago at Rio.
The OlyWhites open their account against Korea at 8pm NZ time Thursday.
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