If anything could cause a breakdown in the ‘special relationship’ between the United Kingdom and America over the past couple of decades, it would be sport - specifically, the idea of our American ‘friends’ knocking us out of an Olympic event on our own soil (well, in our own water).
This was the fate awaiting Team GB’s Men’s Water Polo team, yet to claim a win in their first two matches, festering pointless at the bottom of Group B. Defeat in this, their third match would seal the team’s fate, knocking them out of the group at the earliest possible interval whilst forcing them to suffer the ultimate indignity of playing out their remaining group matches for ‘pride’.
Although the Americans had already demonstrated massive dominance, could a packed arena and extraordinarily enthusiastic home support inspire Team GB to the most unlikely of victories?
From the very early stages of the match, the USA’s physical and technical superiority was painfully clear. Before we had even reached the end of the first quarter the Americans had scored five times (three of the goals coming from their captain, Tony Azevedo) with no British reply.
Every time the USA took the ball forward, it seemed only a matter of time before a goal scoring chance was created. Every time Team GB carried the ball forward there was an obvious lack of confidence. The USA simply had to wait until a limp shot on goal meant the ball was once again theirs.
Halfway through the second quarter, Great Britain’s Rob Parker made the score 1-7. The feisty GB supporters nearly blew the roof off the arena.
The home support spurred GB on to scoring another two, but with the score 8-3 in favour to the opposition at half time, an American win seemed the only plausible outcome.
With seconds to go at the end of the third quarter, Team GB narrowed the score to 10-6. Optimists in the arena screamed enthusiastically for the entire 90-second interval, desperate for the teams to get back into the pool.
In the first minute of the final period Team GB’s Adam Schofield fired a shot at the American goal, which was fumbled by the US goalkeeper Merrill Moses and appeared to cross the line, taking the score to 10-7.
The crowd roared with excitement, not realising that the goal hadn’t been awarded. The disappointment continued, as less than 30 seconds later a penalty was awarded to the US - and its conversion widened the gap to 11-6.
A sensation no sport fan ever wants to experience is celebrating their opponent’s failures. Regrettably, as the result became more and more inevitable, optimism turned to petulant bitterness and the vocal home supporters cheered every minor mishap from Team USA.
Realistically, Team GB never looked capable of beating the Americans. The visitor’s ferocious onslaught at the start meant GB always had an enormous deficit to overturn and no matter how heroic the second-half performance.
The match ended 13-7.
So severe was the thrashing, were it not for the news that a short way across the Olympic Park Chris Hoy had secured another Gold for Team GB, many of the GB supporters in attendance may well have hurled themselves into the water.