In a frantic, end-to-end frantic match between the two sides of one of sport’s biggest rivalries, a last-gasp New Zealand miss ensured that the Australians took a 50-49 victory, topping Group F in the process.
The Diamonds are world number one and have won eight of the last seven meetings between these two teams.
In 15 previous World Cup clashes between the sides, who both won their groups in Preliminaries stage one, there had never been a winning margin of more than 11 goals, with a third of those games decided by just one goal.
The opening quarter played out exactly in the manner in which was anticipated, with the speed and quality on show from both sides of the very highest order.
Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood, however, were the attacking pair who found the net most frequently, missing one shot each as they scored 13 in the first 15 minutes.
Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio notched 10 between them, meaning New Zealand, the fourth-ranked team in the world, were trailing by three at the quarter mark.
The physically intense battle was proving to be a strong contender for the game of the tournament so far, and that continued as the match progressed.
New Zealand’s veteran goal defence Casey Kopua, who will retire after the tournament, and goalkeeper Jane Watson, had their work cut out at times against the speed and movement of Australia’s attack, but the Kiwis’ front players were as much of a handful at the other end.
A flurry of goals early on in the second quarter, with the teams taking it in turns to earn a cheer from the lively M&S Bank Arena crowd, continued the neck-and-neck nature of the encounter.
The Diamonds threatened to pull away, opening up a two-goal lead in the quarter at one stage, and a five-goal lead overall, but New Zealand were not to be put off.
The Kiwis dragged themselves level in the quarter on a couple of occasions but ultimately succumbed to the ruthless Bassett and Wood once again. At the interval, Australia led 28-22.
Having won the first two quarters by three goals, Australia needed to match that average in the second half to record a record margin of victory against the Kiwis.
Bassett and Wood needed no encouragement to continue finding the net, but New Zealand were in no mood to collapse.
The Kiwis won their first quarter of the match by 14 goals to 12 – closing the overall scoreline to 40-36 – to set up an exciting finish.
New Zealand pushed hard to draw level – getting within one goal with 10 minutes left on the clock and then again with 90 seconds to go – but even when they did level the scoreline, Australia edged in front once again.
New Zealand then worked the ball into a shooting position in the closing seconds of the game, but the usually-reliable Folau was unable to take the chance, meaning a sensational game finished 50-49 to Australia.
This result means Australia will face the loser of tonight’s Group G clash between England and South Africa in the semi-finals, while New Zealand will play the winner of that game in their last four tie.
Australia’s Liz Watson said:
“We put out a great first half and maybe then dropped off in the second, but we were ahead and they were chasing us, so we needed to stay calm, composed and keep scoring.”
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said:
“I love that kind of game – it was great. One of the things I’m really pleased about is the team we had to be able to make changes and get ourselves back level there. I think the changes at certain times made a difference – Australia maybe didn’t react to those changes as well.”