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BRITISH WOMEN TO FACE FIRST EUROPEAN TEST
The LEN Women's European B Water Polo Championships in the Czech Republic will provide Britain with their first tournament test since Hungarian-born coach Szilveszter Fekete began working with the British squad in February this year.
Under Fekete, the squad has been working hard preparing for the Prague event next week which features nine nations split into groups of five and four.
Britain have the difficult task of taking on France, the pre-tournament favourites, in their group as well as Slovakia and Turkey. The first group features hosts the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Portugal and Switzerland.
The British team, however, is quietly confident the work undertaken over recent months will serve them well as they look to secure a top two finish in the group before progressing to the play-off stages.
For National Performance Director Nick Hume the event will provide a valuable opportunity to chart the squad's improvement while enabling enhancements to be made to a programme aimed at putting Britain in the higher echelons of the sport in time for the London 2012 Olympics.
"This international event sees the squad progress to the next level and it will be interesting to see just how far they've moved on," explained Hume. "Our ultimate aim is to finish in the top four and this will give us a place at the next qualification tournament for the 2008 European Championships.
"The top four nations from the European B Championships will play off against the bottom four teams from the A Championships as they look to qualify for the main event next year. That's where we need to be aiming for as we prepare for the London Olympics.
"We've got a mixed team which includes a number of juniors forcing their way into the senior fold. We've lost our influential captain and most experienced player in Fran Leighton due to a knee injury but this gives others the opportunity to move into the senior team."
Hume is confident the women's team will put their fresh approach, introduced by Fekete, into action this week although he's aware of the steps that need to be taken to produce a competitive Olympic squad.
"The girl's have been working very hard and it's the first time Fekete has had the team for a proper tournament. They're untried and untested as a unit so we'll be looking to see how this goes, note what works and what doesn't and adjust our programme accordingly.
"We've done well against a number of the teams that will compete in Prague. We've had wins against Portugal and Switzerland but these games will be different as the stakes are higher.
"We're quite confident of coming through the tournament in the top four and this will signal the improvements made against some far more experienced teams. We're moving it on all of the time and it would be good for a result to signify that."
The team sees a number of new additions but Hume wants more athletes coming into the sport, coming through the ranks and pressing for places within the national set up.
"We've got a couple of girls in the team that have been based in America and it will be good to see how they've progressed. Lisa Gibson has been with our junior set up for the past two years and Daisy Fish lives in the U.S.
"But the sport in this country needs more players working their way into the system and that is one of the things we're desperately trying to alter.
"We need competition for places to push the athletes on and later this summer we'll be holding open days where swimmers, athletes, the public can attend to see what the sport has to offer and to see where they can fit into it."
Britain kick-start their European campaign on Tuesday 19th June against Turkey
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FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS