The Football Ferns began the match brightly, with Amber Hearn and Emma Kete unsettling the Japan defence with their combative style. Yet, it was not all ‘kick and rush' from the Kiwis; in the first 15 minutes they played the better football, with Japan looking nervous and out of sorts under the Olympic spotlight.
Yet as skipper Homare Sawa and Mizuho Sakaguchi began to get a foothold in midfield, the Nadeshiko began to dominate. New Zealand were grateful to goalkeeper Jenny Bindon who pulled off two fine saves to deny Yuki Nagasato. One, in particular, was a world-class stop, the 35-year-old diving at full stretch to block the forward's effort with her left arm.
Japan were made to rue the miss when New Zealand took the lead in the 38th minute. Ali Riley's ball into the box was mistakenly left by Yukari Kinga and Kirsty Yallop was left with the simplest of opportunities to slot the ball home.
Once again, it was New Zealand who were the quickest out of the blocks in the second half. Riley had a shot blocked by the legs of Miho Fukumoto, and 12 minutes after the re-start they had doubled their advantage. A push by Azusa Iwasimizu while the Japanese were defending a corner had not gone unnoticed by referee Deidre Mitchell, and Amber Hearn converted the resulting penalty.
The east Asians came back strongly and had chances through Shinobu Ohno, Kozue Ando and Sakaguchi, but were frustrated again until they too were awarded a penalty in the 73rd minute for another infringement from a corner. The influential Aya Miyama stepped up to take it - and she made no mistake from 12 yards.
Miyama was the driving force behind her side's best moves, and it was she who had a hand in the equaliser when her free-kick was turned in at the near post by skipper Homare Sawa with four minutes of normal time remaining.