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Ollie Watkins: Aston Villa striker seizes England chance

Video subtitle, Watkins scored England’s late winner

  • Author, Emlyn Begley
  • Role, BBC Sports Journalist

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

The Aston Villa man got past Stefan de Vrij and fired a powerful shot into the bottom corner to score one of the greatest goals ever scored by England.

Nine years later, he had just finished a loan spell at non-league side Weston-super-Mare from League Two side Exeter City.

Asked if he could have imagined it at the time after his performance at Dortmund, he replied: “You can dream, but I’m a realist. I was just focused on getting back into the first team at Exeter.”

“To be honest, I didn’t dream about it. I can’t lie and say I dreamed about it. Scoring for England is incredible, but I didn’t think I would achieve it in a tournament like that.”

Watkins’ winner more than justified Gareth Southgate’s decision to select him to replace England’s all-time leading scorer Harry Kane with nine minutes remaining. He came on alongside Cole Palmer, who set up the goal.

“I was wondering when the changes were going to come. The changes were the right ones and they were perfect,” former England captain Alan Shearer told 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 squads for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

“When I was on the bench I said to (substitute goalkeeper) Dean Henderson: ‘I can make the difference today and I have to go in’. I took my chance, I scored and now we are in the final. One last game,” he said.

That match will be against Spain in Sunday’s Euro 2024 final, as England look to become European champions for the first time in men’s football.

Watkins’ rise to the top

Video subtitle, “The best feeling I’ve ever had!” said Watkins after scoring the winning goal against England

Unlike many England players, Watkins began his career further down the football pyramid: at Exeter City.

By the age of 18, playing predominantly as a winger, Watkins had made four first-team appearances for City before being loaned to Weston-super-Mare in the Conference South.

There he scored 10 goals in 18 starts and became popular in the Exeter team as a striker.

“Suddenly the engine started to run. I’ve never seen a player experience such a radical change in performance as Ollie experienced,” Tisdale said.

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

He scored a further 49 goals in 143 games for the Bees before becoming the most expensive player in Championship history when he joined Aston Villa for £28m three years later.

Watkins has been a standout for Villa with 70 goals in 169 appearances, scoring 19 in the Premier League last season to lead his club to the Champions League.

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

“His greatest strength might be his greatest weakness. He might beat himself up for certain things, but that would also motivate him.

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

Last month, Watkins said: “Even when I first went to Villa, I had just been bought for £30m and I still wasn’t sure if I deserved to be there.

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

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

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

“I’m happy to be here now.”

And the same goes for Gareth Southgate.

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

“There are a lot of new players in the group. Half of them have never been to any tournaments, but they have bonded really well, they support each other 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 prepared,” Kane said. “We’re a great team when it comes to being prepared.

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

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

Former England striker Ian Wright was left impressed watching the match for ITV.

“That’s what Ollie Watkins does. That’s exactly the attitude I’d like to have,” he said.

“You wanted Cole Palmer to come in and throw a perfect pass. At that point, you went back to basics. It was absolutely perfect. Nobody did that to those defenders all night. They were having a good time until he came in.

“Amazing moment. That’s what you’ve come here to do: just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? Ollie Watkins has done brilliantly.

“He waited for his chance and took it. Now we’re in the final. It’s incredible.”

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