South Korea 2
New Zealand 1
The Football Ferns showed some encouraging signs of development but not enough to avoid defeat in South Korea tonight.
Jacqui Hand gave the Ferns the lead with a well-placed header in the 25th minute, her first goal for the side in her third international.
That proved the catalyst for a 20-minute spell during which the Ferns produced some of their best football in recent memory.
They dominated territory and possession, played with composure and confidence and denied the hosts any decent scoring chances.
But Korea increased their intensity after halftime, equalising around the hour mark and taking the lead with 10 minutes remaining.
The Ferns faded as the match progressed and the fast-finishing Koreans ran out worthy winners.
Still, this was a significant step up from the Ferns' efforts against Canada a month ago, even allowing for the difference in world rankings (Canada are sixth, Korea 18th and New Zealand 23rd).
The first match in Canada ended in a 5-1 defeat most notable for some calamitous defending; the second was also a loss, albeit a much-improved 1-0.
Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova can at least feel a degree of satisfaction with aspects of tonight's performance, if not the result.
There is still much to do before the next Fifa Women's World Cup kicks off in New Zealand and Australia in 20 months but at least her side appear to be tracking in the right direction.
Playing a 4-3-3, they kept their shape well when defending from the front and frequently pressed effectively. But as has invariably been the case with the Ferns, they struggled to retain possession and string together passes early on.
The challenge is to produce more of the moves that led to the opening goal. The Ferns broke well from the edge of their penalty area, with a ball out from Meikayla Moore, and Olivia Chance driving the play forward.
Just as it looked like the move's momentum had been lost, Ali Riley curled in a cross from the left and Hand glanced a header low into the bottom right corner. High balls into the area were proving fruitful for the visitors.
The goal triggered a great spell for the Ferns — they held the ball better and played with greater confidence as the Koreans struggled to get back into the match.
CJ Bott and Hand were combining well down the right, while Ria Percival and Betsy Hassett were dominating the middle of the park.
The second half was a different story and the 59th-minute equaliser was no surprise. The most disappointing aspect for Klimkova will be its simplicity — a ball played up the line caught out skipper Riley in a way a player of her experience shouldn't be. The ball was carried unopposed almost to the near post before it was squared to a cluster of three players at the far, where Moore deflected it in from about a metre out.
Korea hit the crossbar with a free kick and keeper Anna Leat tipped a shot around her right post before the hosts hit the front in the 81st minute. A cross from the byline seemed to suck all the defenders to the near post, leaving Lim Seonjoo unmarked at the far for a simple headed goal.
The Ferns play Korea again on Tuesday night — the challenge will be to produce an improved performance as they did in Canada.
South Korea 2 (Meikayla Moore own goal 59, Lim Seonjoo 81)
New Zealand 1 (Jacqui Hand 25)