The British Gas GBR Women’s Water Polo team underlined their Olympic potential as they pushed USA all the way in their final group game of the VISA International.
After slipping to an early 4-0 deficit, the Brits fought their way back into the match, pulling within one goal for much of the second half before an agonising 7-6 defeat.
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The Americans, who have medalled at every Olympics since the women’s game was included in 2000, are one of the favourites for gold at London 2012 and had won both their group games at the VISA test event with Australia and Hungary.
But with a partisan crowd behind them, the Brits matched their experienced opponents in every part of the pool.
And while the final equaliser ultimately evaded them, British head coach Szilveszter Fekete agreed it was his team’s finest performance of the competition.
"I think today was a really good game for us," said Fekete. "We showed good concentration, good fight, good discipline. We stayed organised throughout in defence. We started a little bit nervously, perhaps that was down to emotions in our first game against the USA. But after that I think we were equals with the World Cup champions and one of the big favourites for the Olympics so I'm very happy."
The Americans started positively, scoring two early power plays and adding another two goals as the British attack struggled to find a way past USA goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong. But momentum swung after British keeper Rosie Morris saved a 5m penalty and Lisa Gibson latched on to Frankie Snell’s pass in the final seconds to pull a goal back.
The second quarter began with a Snell goal on the man-up before Ciara Gibson-Byrne scored her first of the tournament to reduce the deficit to one just minutes later.
The Americans responded with a goal of their own before Gibson-Byrne struck again, finding space on the right wing and firing home with 35 seconds left in the second quarter.
With the score at 5-4 to USA at half-time, the British crowd could sense an upset and American keeper Armstrong proved her worth with smart saves to deny GB forwards Angie Winstanley-Smith and Fran Leighton.
The Americans added one goal in the third quarter but at just 6-4 down with one quarter to go, the match was hanging in the balance.
Snell scored her second goal half-way through the quarter but USA responded with one more of their own to pull two ahead again.
Snell completed her hat-trick as the fourth quarter came to a close and while the Brits couldn’t quite squeeze over the line, the centre back insisted the performance was a huge confidence boost for the team.
"That was so amazing," said Snell. "The crowd were really unbelievable. Playing in front of that many people really lifts you up. It was such a good fight from all the girls in the team. To come back from four goals down and how we clawed our way back into it was brilliant and although we did lose it was such a good result for us."
The Brits will face Hungary in the bronze medal match on Sunday after the Hungarians lost their final group match 17-12 to Australia.