Onslaught ... Australia's Aidan Zingel and Aden Tutton celebrate a point against Italy. Photo: Reuters
Could any rugby league fan comprehend what it would be like if Italy beat the Kangaroos in a World Cup?
It would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of Australian sport.
That scenario played itself out at the Olympics yesterday, where the Aussies were the ultimate of underdogs. They were up against a powerhouse of international volleyball, the mighty Italy, where professional volleyball players are recognised on the street and thousands pack in to watch league games.
Italy's Ivan Zaytsev spikes as, from left, Harrison Peacock, Travis Passier and Adam White attempt to block. Photo: AFP
The Volleyroos, ranked 22nd in the world, found themselves two sets to love up against the Beijing silver medallists with a stunning 25-21, 25-18 onslaught.
They had lifted for the occasion after losing to Argentina and Bulgaria without claiming a set, before beating Great Britain, the 92nd-best country, who were only in the competition because of their position as hosts.
Italy needed to produce something special to come back, winning the third 25-18 before blowing the reeling Aussies away in the fourth, 25-14.
In the end, as the youngest squad in the tournament, inexperience cost them, losing a thrilling last set 15-13, after it was 13-all in front of a packed crowd at Earls Court.
"It's huge for our confidence taking on Italy like that," star blocker Aidan Zingel said.
"We played the in our warm-up (games) at the beginning of the year and we got smashed three-nil, without a chance in the world.
"It's amazing how far we've come in such a short space of time."
Coach Jon Uriarte, a former star player for Argentina over a decade, winning bronze in Seoul in 1988, said the team showed its true potential against the Italians.
Most of Australia's squad play in Europe, Zingel played in the same team as Italian star Michal Lasko two years ago, while captain Cristian Savani is considered the Cameron Smith of Italian volleyball, winning the national title with his club this year.
The victory may have escaped them, but Uriarte said the results showed Australia is capable of winning medals in Rio de Janeiro in four years.
"We didn't perform well in the beginning but this was our reality, we played very good," he said.
"We kept our quality throughout the whole match, the key moments, we struggled a little bit.
"It's such a young group we have in this tournament if we keep going well, we could have at least one more Olympics with this team, maybe more.
"We have a very good chance to do very good in Rio."
Australia only qualified by snaring the last position in Asia, after beating China in the tournament in Japan.
It was a stunning result, but no one expected Australia to push Italy to the limits of their ability.
"We've played with and against their whole team so we had some good scouting information," he said.
"But these guys are some of the best in the world, they have so much depth.
"Of the 40 players that could have been selected for them, every one of them is good enough to play at an Olympics.
"We only have a tiny amount of players to choose from."