WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE AS MARTIN DEVLIN SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON NEW ZEALAND'S UNDER 17 FOOTBALL TEAM
The New Zealand women's under-17 side's dream run at the FIFA World Cup is over.
Leon Bernie's side have been defeated 2-0 by Spain in their semifinal clash in Montevideo this morning.
Goals on either side of halftime by Pina and Irene booked Spain a spot in the final where they will face either Mexico or Canada.
New Zealand will now play in Sunday's Bronze Final against the loser of the second semifinal.
The under-17 side were the first New Zealand team across any FIFA World Cup competition to reach the final four after beating Japan in the quarter-finals.
"We knew today was going to be challenging and we knew it was going to be tough. The first half especially, man we took it to them," Bernie said.
"There was long periods of that game where we had them camped in their half and we hit the cross bar. And then they went down the other end, had a missed shot and then we switched off. They got that first goal which was an absolute killer if I'm honest.
"So proud of them. You look out at there today and they tried everything until the final whistle. It's been a fantastic tournament. We've come over here, made it out of the group play for the first time and then got into the semis for the first time. It's an amazing moment in our country for football.
"They'll be disappointed tonight but we'll refocus and we've got that playoff game. If we win that, that's another special moment."
As expected due to their possession-based style, Spain enjoyed much of the ball but New Zealand pressed forward at every opportunity and actually had the better of the sights on goal. They enjoyed a good spell of pressure around the 15-minute mark before Kelli Brown tried her luck from distance but was a long way out and her looping effort dropped just wide of the top corner.
Despite all their possession, Spain were struggling to create anything going forward, thanks largely to several vital interventions from New Zealand's inspirational captain Aneka Mittendorff. When the next good chance did arrive, it again went the way of the Oceania champions in the 26th minute, Gabi Rennie being played in down the right by Amelia Abbott but her shot from a tight angle couldn't beat Spain goalkeeper Catalina Coll at her near post.
Just a few minutes later, New Zealand went even closer to opening the scoring when Coll got the faintest of touches to a perfectly-placed strike from Macey Fraser and it bounced agonisingly off the crossbar. It wasn't until the 34th minute that Spain came anywhere near to a goal themselves, captain Clàudia Pina glancing an effort off the base of the upright.
But the same player would soon be responsible for giving them the lead when a cross broke to her in the box and she smashed it past Leat to put Spain in front at the break.
The underdogs needed to begin the second half well to get back into the game but the highly-accomplished Spaniards weren't about to let a place in the final slip through their grasp and extended their lead soon after the restart in stunning fashion. A loose ball dropped to Irene López outside the box and she unleashed a unstoppable volley that fizzed in off the inside of the post for one of the goals of the tournament.
If any were needed, it was a reminder of the sort of quality the Kiwis were up against and they couldn't produce a similar moment of their own as they looked to fight back from two down.
Substitute Maya Hahn tried to get her country back into the game with a shot from distance on the hour but it was an ambitious effort and went wide. Anna Leat had been forced to make a good save at her near post earlier but had little else to do as Spain did not seriously threaten to add to their lead.
New Zealand kept pressing to keep their hopes alive and their best moment of the half arrived when a pair of substitutes combined to good effect in the 83rd minute. Britney Cunningham-Lee picked out Ayla Pratt with a perfect through ball but Coll did well to come out and block the effort of Pratt at close range.
The industrious Grace Wisnewski then caught a defender in possession and fired off a shot under pressure but Coll was able to make a comfortable save as Spain closed the game out.
New Zealand will now take on either Mexico or Canada in the play-off for third at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup on Sunday morning (NZT).