The All Whites were beaten 1-0 in their friendly international against South Korea in Seoul.
After the New Zealand goalie Stefan Marinovic had saved a penalty among a string of top quality saves, the home team's substitute Lee Jae-sung scored the winner four minutes from time.
The result was seen as a fitting tribute to the retiring defender Cha Du-ri who was a member of the South Korean team which reached the semi-finals at the 2002 World Cup.
The match was played on a sodden World Cup Stadium.
It was a harsh return for Anthony Hudson's side who worked tirelessly over the course of the 90 minutes in pressing and harassing their opponents all over the pitch, creating several scoring chances themselves on the back of that high work rate.
Captain Chris Wood had the ball in the Korean net as the first half drew to a close only to be pulled back for a foul in the lead-up, while Bill Tuiloma flashed a header wide of the Korean goal from a corner midway through the opening 45 minutes.
Earlier, Wood had the best chance of the opening period of the game - finding space in the Korean area from a corner to fire a shot on the swivel at the host's goalkeeper after eight minutes.
The All Whites would have faced a 1-0 deficit at the break but for a penalty save from Marinovic in the 38th minute.
Having conceded the spot kick after racing out to thwart a counter attack and collecting only a Korean attacker, Marinovic then did superbly to turn aside the penalty to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
Hudson's side couldn't find the same regular attacking threat in the second period that they carried in the first as substitutes from both sides and the driving rain played a role in disrupting the rhythm of the contest.
The match saw four players make their All Whites debuts in the run on side as Clayton Lewis, Ryan De Vries, Themi Tzimopoulos and Marinovic all recorded their first cap for their country while Ben van den Broek made his first appearance from the bench in the second half.
Joel Stevens was stretchered off with a shoulder injury minutes after entering the game early in the second half, replaced by Wellington Phoenix club mate Louis Fenton.
Hudson says despite the final score line, the effort of the side raised the bar from the games played at the tail end of 2014.
He says to go toe-to-toe with such an experienced and top class team with a really young squad, we've gained a lot from tonight and taken another big step towards what we're trying to achieve.
Hudson says they showed an incredible team ethic, every single player that came on the pitch fought and gave everything.
Hudson paid tribute to the contingent of young players who made their international debuts against the 56th-ranked Korea Republic side who could play important roles in the national set-up moving forwards.
"I don't think you could have had a more difficult debut if you're one of the younger players coming in," he says. "You're playing in a relatively young squad, against one of the top teams in Asia."