The underdogs looked set to produce one of the shocks of the tournament so far, but the women’s all-time Olympic top scorer snatched the win four minutes from time.
After a similar late 1-0 defeat by hosts Great Britain, New Zealand knew something from this game would ease a potential passage into in the next round, though it was never going to be easy against a Brazil side fresh off the back of a 5-0 demolition of Cameroon.
Despite a resilient display in defence and midfield by the Football Ferns it proved to be a bridge too far. Marta’s deep free-kick caused havoc in the New Zealand box and, with goalkeeper Jenny Bindon straying from her goalline, Cristiane coolly lobbed the ball over a raft of white shirts and into the net.
Both sides made a single change to their starting line-ups, Betsy Hassett replacing Kirsty Yallop in midfield for the Football Ferns, while Cristiane was rewarded for her goalscoring cameo against Cameroon to come in for Thais Guedes.
Brazil were limited to efforts from distance early on as they failed to find their usual devastating rhythm. New Zealand held their own for the first half, getting among the Brazilians and leaving the favourites’ defence looking nervy under a multitude of crosses.
Brazil ended the half the strongest, though. Three minutes from half-time Formiga struck a right-footed volley from the edge of the box following a cleared corner, but it was crucially deflected around the post by Amber Hearn.
While the Football Ferns would have been the happier at the break, Brazil unlocked them early on in the second half. The two-full backs combined as Fabiana got in behind the New Zealand defence and fired across the box, but the late-arriving Maurine sliced her shot wide.
However, the frustration for Brazil continued with New Zealand defending stoutly and breaking up the South Americans' play well. Full-backs Ali Riley and Hannah Percival were resilient throughout against their onrushing opposite numbers.