All Whites coach Anthony Hudson is devastated his players didn't get what they deserved after falling 2-1 to Mexico in a sometimes spiteful Confederation Cup encounter.
It took two second-half goals from the startled Mexicans in Sochi to avoid an enormous upset after the world No.17 ranked side trailed the 95th-ranked All Whites at halftime.
A second Group A loss means New Zealand can't reach the semi-finals, regardless of their final group result against unbeaten Portugal on Saturday.
A vastly-improved performance, after a 2-0 loss to Russia last weekend, nevertheless restored Kiwi pride.
The match ended in an all-in fracas with the referee needing touchline assistance to assess the skirmishes on a screen, rather than just relying on video replay assistants.
"It was intense, it was competitive," Hudson said.
"If I was a big team in world football and we were taken right to the edge by a smaller team like New Zealand there's a certain amount of discomfort there and big pressure. So I would imagine that's part of (the incident)."
Three players were eventually booked for their involvement in the second flashpoint of the game.
Earlier, tensions erupted when Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio swore at the New Zealand coaching staff.
The spark was Chris Wood striking at goal while Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo was down injured after his left shoulder was hurt in an off-the-ball tangle with the striker.
"I apologize, my words were wrong," Osorio said through a translator.
"Our players and myself were shouting to stop the game but there was no reaction on the side."
However, Osorio was keen to share the blame.
"The game was really rough and violent. That's unacceptable and why I lost my temper.
"I felt very offended and I had some insults in my direction in Spanish.
"It's true that the camera shows some things I said but (New Zealand's) assistant coach is responsible for what happened."
Early physicality and pressing seemed to rattle the Mexicans, who couldn't prevent New Zealand creating several chances through neat build-up play.
All Whites captain Wood failed to capitalise on several half-chances but the Leeds United striker made no mistake in the 42nd minute.
He scored his 20th international goal - and New Zealand's first for 334 minutes - when latching onto a deflected through ball from Clayton Lewis.
Mexicans stormed back after the break, creating a swag of chances.
Both goals came when the Javier Aquino nipped past him 18-year-old right back Dane Ingham, setting up Benfica striker Raul Jiminez (54th minute) and Oribe Peralta (72nd), who both produced classy finishes.
Pride mixed with disappointment for Englishman Hudson, who had been criticised for the performances against Russia and in two lead-up losses.
"I'm so disappointed for the players. They deserve a lot more out of tonight," Hudson said.
"They went toe-to-toe with a top team in the world.
"It's great development but we want to get results here, so we're not happy at all."