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Cautious Leighton eyes winning start to European Qualifying campaign

25 January 2011

Captain Fran Leighton insists Great Britain’s Women’s Water Polo team, powered by British Gas, are taking nothing for granted ahead of their first European Championship qualifier in Loughborough on Saturday.

Visitors Israel are an unknown quantity in women’s international water polo, having lost out to Great Britain in the 2004 European B Championships in Nancy but almost disappeared off the radar since.

We're all quite confident but we know the first quarter will be a real test.

At 28, Leighton is one of the few remaining players in the British squad to have taken part in 2004 but she is adamant the result has little significance on Saturday’s game.

And with no chance to scout the opposition until the teams warm up on the day, the British captain admits the opening encounters could prove crucial.

“I think the first quarter will be really interesting,” said Leighton, who is nearing a return to first team action after missing the opening months of the season through illness.

“Both teams will be working out and seeing what the other has to offer.

“Realistically we should come out on top but we’re not going to have a clue what they’re like until we see them warming up before the match.

“We’re all quite confident but we know the first quarter will be a real test.”

Although the British women have 14 competitive matches under their belts this season from competing in the Hungarian National League, the visit of Israel will be their first international since June 2010.

As much as we care about the Hungarian League, the Europeans are more important.

A top-two finish in Group B, which also features Spain and Ukraine, would see the British progress to the 2012 Championships in Eindhoven.

And Leighton insists the British team have no doubts over where their priorities lie, having missed out on last year’s Europeans by a narrow margin.

“We’ve been playing competitive matches every other weekend this season so it’s become a regular routine,” said Leighton.

“But as much as we care about the Hungarian League, the Europeans are the more important competition for us.

“It will be a totally different atmosphere to playing in Hungary and we’re all really looking forward to it.

“We won the European B tournament in 2009 which put us in to the European A qualifying last year.

“We had a tough qualifying group, losing out to the Dutch and Greece in the end, but while we were okay with that last year, we wouldn’t be happy not qualifying this time.”

Tickets for the match are now sold out - to view exclusive pictures from the event,  join the Facebook fan page.

Click play to watch GB player Rachel Drabble's video diary from when the Hungarian international team trained with the British squad in Manchester just before Christmas.

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