British women's water polo team reaches 2012 Euros

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter

Britain's women's water polo team will compete at the European Championships for the first time since 1997 after winning a qualifier against Ukraine.

GB won 21-8 at the Manchester Aquatics Centre despite missing the influential Fran Leighton, who has a hip injury.

"[The Euros] is a brand new experience for me. My ambition there is top six," said Britain's Angie Winstanley-Smith.

GB, who also play in Hungary's national league, have as the hosts.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed in March that both the men's and women's teams had met its criteria and would be allowed to take up the berths allocated to the host nation by world governing body Fina.

Reaching the European finals, to be held in the Dutch city of Eindhoven in January, for the first time in 15 years is a sign of the progress the sport is making in Britain.

"I lost to Ukraine in 2004 in one of my first senior tournaments," said Winstanley-Smith, 26, who top-scored for GB in Saturday's victory and skippered the side in the absence of usual captain Leighton.

"In the last six years we've managed to get better than them and now beat them by a comfortable scoreline.

"We went to Ukraine in February and won 11-7 there. Today was more emphatic and it shows we're improving."

Water polo lost more than half of its funding in a round of cuts by UK Sport early in 2009, but has since had some of that cash restored.

Two wins against Ukraine and one against Israel have proved enough to see them through their Euro qualifying group behind Spain, with a dead rubber away to Israel on 15 October still to play.

Mathematically Ukraine could leapfrog GB in the final round of qualifying matches, but the goal difference between the two is so vastly in Britain's favour that the maths is of little consequence.

"My ambition at the Euros is the top six but, at a championships, I feel like anything can happen," Winstanley-Smith told BBC Sport.

"Fingers crossed, something quite special can get us going for London 2012."

Neither the British women nor the men are considered London 2012 medal prospects.

The BOA is, however, satisfied that the teams will prove competitive enough to justify their places at the Games, and that their participation will help to secure a legacy in the UK for the sport.

The women's team play in the domestic league of Hungary, one of the world's leading water polo nations, in order to regularly test themselves against some of the sport's best players.

Top Stories