Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Ollie Watkins: Aston Villa striker takes his chance for England – BBC Sport

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Video caption, Watkins score late winner for England

  • Author, Emlyn Begley
  • Role, BBC Sport journalist

“I’ve been waiting for that moment for weeks,” said Ollie Watkins afterwards – and boy did he take it.

The Aston Villa man turned Stefan de Vrij and hammered a shot into the bottom corner for one of the most important England goals ever scored.

Rewind nine years and he had just finished a loan spell at non-league Weston-super-Mare from League Two Exeter City.

Asked after his Dortmund heroics whether he could have imagined this at the time, he said: “You can dream but I am a realist. I was just focused on getting back into the first team at Exeter.

“I didn’t dream about that to be honest. I can’t lie and say I did. Scoring for England is amazing but I didn’t think I’d do it in a tournament like that.”

Watkins’ winning goal more than justified Gareth Southgate’s decision to choose him to replace England’s all-time top scorer Harry Kane, with nine minutes to go. He came on alongside Cole Palmer, who set up his goal.

“I was wondering when the changes were going to happen. The changes were right and they were perfect,” said former England captain Alan Shearer on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Former Brentford striker Watkins had only played 20 minutes at a major tournament before this, in the group stage against Denmark, having been left out of the Euro 2020 and 2022 World Cup squads.

“When I was on the bench I said to [sub keeper] Dean Henderson, ‘I can make a difference today and need to get on’. I took my chance, scored it and now we are in the final. One last game,” he said.

That game is against Spain in Sunday’s Euro 2024 final – as England bid to be European champions for the first time in men’s football.

Watkins’ rise to the top

Video caption, ‘The best feeling ever!’ – Watkins on scoring England winner

Unlike many England players, Watkins started his career lower in the football pyramid – at Exeter City.

At the age of 18, mostly playing on the wing, Watkins had made four first-team appearances for City before being sent on loan to Weston-super-Mare in the Conference South, the sixth tier.

He scored 10 goals in 18 starts there – and broke into the Exeter team, as a striker.

“Suddenly the engine turned on. I’ve never seen a player have a quantum shift in their output as much as Ollie did,” said Tisdale.

He left for Championship Brentford in 2017 for £1.8m having scored 26 goals in 78 appearances for Exeter.

Another 49 goals followed in 143 games for the Bees before he became the most expensive Championship player ever when he joined Aston Villa for £28m three years later.

Watkins has kicked on at Villa with 70 goals in 169 games, hitting 19 Premier League goals last season to take his club into the Champions League.

Dean Smith, who managed him at Brentford and Villa, said: “I look at him now – he has become more of a selfish player, which is a good thing.

“His biggest strength could be his biggest weakness. He could beat himself up over things but it would also drive him.

“His emotional control now allows him to accept ‘I will miss chances but I’ll be ready for the next one’.”

Just last month Watkins said: “Even when I first went to Villa, I’d just been bought for £30m and I was still unsure whether I deserved to be there.

“I hadn’t done it in the Premier League, so I would say there was a bit of that before. But now I’m in a really good place.

“I had a really good year, got the most assists in the league, scored a lot of goals and people still weren’t including me in their squads to come to the Euros.

“Everyone has their own opinion, but I don’t feel like I have that big profile where I’m talked about. Or where if I was left out of the squad, people would be like: ‘Oh, I can’t believe they didn’t pick Ollie Watkins.’

“I’m happy I’m here now.”

And so is Gareth Southgate.

“Ollie has trained every day and been ready to play, as the whole group has been,” he said.

“There’s a lot of new players in the group. Half have not been to a tournament but they have bonded so well, got each other’s back and tonight was a good example of that.”

‘You can make a difference, you can win us a tournament’

Watkins’ goal – timed at 89:59 – was the latest winning goal scored in a European Championship or World Cup semi-final, excluding extra time.

It came with one of only 10 touches Watkins has had in the tournament.

“We talk about being ready,” said Kane. “We’re a big team at being ready.

“When it matters, you might get five minutes, one minute, but you can make a difference, you can win us a tournament. He’s been waiting, he’s been patient.

“What he did was outstanding and he deserves it.”

Ex-England striker Ian Wright was impressed watching the game for ITV.

“This is what Ollie Watkins does. This is the exact attitude I would want to have,” he said.

“You want Cole Palmer to come on and hit a pass that is perfect. In the moment, get back to the basics. It was absolutely perfect. Nobody did that to those defenders all night. They had an easy ride until he came on.

“Unbelievable moment. That’s what you have come on to do – just take a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Ollie Watkins has done brilliantly.

“He’s waited for his opportunity and he’s done it. Now we’re into the final. It’s just amazing.”

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