Fed Cup: Elena Baltacha defeat ends GB hopes against Argentina
Great Britain's hopes of promotion to Fed Cup World Group II ended as Elena Baltacha lost to Argentina's Maria Irigoyen in Buenos Aires.
Irigoyen won 7-5 3-6 6-1 to give the hosts an unassailable 3-1 lead in the tie, after Laura Robson had earlier lost 6-4 4-6 6-2 to Paula Ormaechea.
The result means Britain must return to the Euro/Africa Group and attempt to qualify again next February.
"It is a tough defeat for us," said GB captain Judy Murray.
Argentina retain their place in the eight-nation World Group II in 2014, but Murray drew positives from the progress made by her team.
"We are getting closer to the play-offs and hopefully next year we can go one better," she added. "We had a lot of chances and didn't manage to take them - the Argentine team played very well.
"I think that the crowd created an amazing atmosphere, something that you don't see at Tour events.
"For us, compared to [previous ties in] Israel and Sweden, we had never played in front of a crowd like that before, it was almost like a carnival."
Britain and optimistic they could end their 20-year absence from the World Group, with world number 38 Robson taking on the 143rd-ranked Ormaechea in the third rubber.
However, the 19-year-old Briton has been struggling for form recently, while Ormaechea reached a WTA final on clay earlier this year and was much more comfortable on the surface.
The Argentine, 20, followed up her win over Johanna Konta on day one by moving into a healthy lead against Robson, but the Londoner fought back from a set and a break down to force a decider.
It was Ormaechea who looked the class act, though, as Robson's continuing problems on serve resurfaced, and she was broken three times on the way to defeat in two hours and 11 minutes.
"I am disappointed," said Robson. "Ormaechea played better than I was expecting and her backhand really surprised me.
"It was tough with the crowd but a good learning experience."
Konta had been originally selected to play the fourth rubber but, having lost her first ever Fed Cup singles match on Saturday, captain Murray opted to switch her for the more experienced Baltacha.
That was not a selection without risk, as the 29-year-old Scot played her first match in nearly nine months only last week following a lengthy injury lay-off.
Baltacha's ranking has consequently slipped to 208 but, as a former top-50 player, she should have had enough to hurt the 202-ranked Irigoyen.
She made a solid start but repeatedly gave up strong positions with unforced errors - her final total reaching 76 - and despite battling to a final set, she went down in two hours and 34 minutes.
"I gave it everything and I'm obviously really disappointed," said Baltacha. "She didn't give me any pace and it was very hard work to keep dictating every single point.
"I thought I was on my way when I broke to start the third but it wasn't meant to be."
In the elite World Group semi-finals, Russia completed a remarkable fightback from two down to beat Slovakia 3-2 in Moscow, while rain saw play suspended in Palermo on Sunday with Italy leading the Czech Republic 2-1.