SHAUNA Mullin and Poole’s Zara Dampney suffered a heavy defeat to Italy in their second preliminary phase match at Horse Guards Parade but nevertheless retained hope of reaching the last 16.

The Italian duo of Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti are dark horses to get among the beach volleyball medals after a solid season on the World Tour, and proved their class with a 21-18 21-12 win that takes them safely into the knockout stage.

Mullin, a former Wessex ace, and Dampney’s opening win against Canada nevertheless keeps them well in the hunt in Pool F, and they will bid to clinch their place in the knockout stage when they face Russia’s Evgeniya Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova on Thursday.

Yesterday’s match represented an increased degree of difficulty from the Great Britain duo’s opener, with the Italians ranked at six in the world, behind only the likes of powerhouses Brazil, the United States, China and Holland.

The first set was tight in the early stages, but nerves were in evidence and more than once Mullin and Dampney went for the same ball, while Mullin twice fluffed straightforward bump shots when returning service.

Yet the British pair stayed in touch, and Dampney had the crowd roaring with a diving dig followed by a winning spike for 12-12, only for the Italians to then begin to pull away.

They took the lead out to 18-15 on a Menegatti attack, and that three-point lead was held to the end of the set, the winning point coming as Mullin misjudged Cicolari’s serve and an ace was called.

The Italians pressed home their advantage in the second set, with a string of net attacks met with no counter from the increasingly frustrated Britons.

Mullin was also struggling to repeat the sparkling form she showed against Canada, with service errors creeping in and spikes flying harmlessly into the net.

The writing was on the wall when the gap opened to 10 points at 18-8, and though the Britons rallied to at least get into double figures, the Italians cantered home to maintain their 100 per cent record.

Dampney said afterwards: “Any Olympic games is tough and the Italians played well. Yesterday wasn’t our day. We’re really disappointed but we’ll pick ourselves up. We’ve usually had really good matches against Italy but they’re such a strong serving team.

“The atmosphere is unbelievable – it gives us goosepimples. It’s amazing to have home support. We love it and we really appreciate it.”