Their mission was to bring the America's Cup home.

But after 166 years of hurt, the British challenge for the 35th America's Cup ultimately went the way of every other British challenge since that first race around the Isle of Wight back in 1851.

From Sir Thomas Lipton to Sir Thomas Sopwith (he of the famous Camel), it has been a miserable run.

Knowing they had to win at least two of yesterday's three races against Team New Zealand to force their play-off semifinal into a deciding day, Sir Ben Ainslie's Land Rover BAR team could win only one, going down 5-2 in the first-to-five series.

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As they crossed the line in front of a packed race village at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda for the final time, 46s behind their fast-pedalling Kiwi rivals, lungs and arms on fire from three races in the space of little over two hours, heads naturally dropped.

"That's the best we've sailed . . . by a long way," Ainslie declared defiantly over the radio. It was both a valid point, and an early attempt to shape the post-mortem which will inevitably follow this experience.

There are two ways of looking at Ainslie's campaign. The first is that Land Rover BAR were extremely well funded, to the tune of around 100 million.

They had private investors, blue-chip commercial partners - title and innovation partner Land Rover responded to the team's exit by committing to a new Cup cycle - and a fantastic new base in Portsmouth.

They were open about the fact that they wanted to win the Cup at the first attempt, asking to be judged to that standard. They believed they could, too, having won the America's Cup World Series last year.

They were led by Ainslie, a man who had never failed at anything. That belief, though, began to drain from the team in the months following their arrival here last winter.

After BAR launched their boat in February it rapidly became clear to them that they were off the pace.

Clearly, there are valid questions to be asked of Ainslie and his team. Why were they so off the pace? What could they have done differently? Was this a colossal failure? The other, more generous - and surely more reasonable - way of looking at their campaign is that they were a first-time team who launched three years ago.

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In one of the most ferociously competitive sports on earth, BAR were playing catch-up from the start.

Their improvement since arriving in Bermuda has been impressive and something of which they can be rightly proud.

"I would say we were the most improved team, performance wise," Ainslie argued, after stepping off his boat and into the arms of his wife and baby daughter. Few would dispute that.

The fact that BAR claimed even one win yesterday was pretty extraordinary. A fortnight ago they were staring down the barrel of complete humiliation.

Their showing, against arguably the strongest team out here, was impressive, as was New Zealand's bounce-back from their epic capsize three days ago.

They are a resilient bunch these Kiwis, hunting Ainslie down in the first race after suffering a daggerboard issue at the start, turning a 300m deficit into a commanding victory. In the second race, now a must-win, the British team showed its spirit.

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In decreasing winds " Team BAR had gambled on a light-air set-up at the start of the day " they managed to stay up on their foils for 100 per cent of the race, holding the Kiwi boat at bay to win by 20sec. It was an incredible achievement in the context of their Cup journey.

Just when it seemed they might force the tie to a deciding day, however, they ran out of juice. Ainslie lost his first start in yonks and New Zealand were simply too smooth, too powerful, too innovative.

"Hats off to them," said Ainslie, who added that he had "learnt an incredible amount" from his first America's Cup as team principal, skipper and helmsman.