Ollie Watkins: 'It's every boy’s dream to play at a World Cup'
Ollie Watkins admitted he didn’t expect to receive an England call-up for this camp but was delighted to have the opportunity to boost his chances of making the World Cup squad with an impressive showing against Cote d’Ivoire.
The Aston Villa striker was initially left out of the Three Lions squad for the matches with Switzerland and Cote d’Ivoire but Tammy Abraham’s withdrawal through injury saw Watkins return to the fold.
The 26-year-old started against Cote d’Ivoire at Wembley Stadium connected by EE on Tuesday night and opened the scoring with his second England goal, before playing a part in Raheem Sterling adding a second in the 3-0 win.
Watkins said: “It was an unbelievable feeling to make my first start for England. I was just trying to make the most of every moment out there, not feel any pressure and just play my game.”
On his second goal, Watkins continued: “I can’t believe it really. Raz [Raheem Sterling] has done unbelievably and when I saw the keeper miss it, I thought it was on a plate for me and I couldn’t miss.”
Watkins has scored seven goals in 27 appearances for Aston Villa in all competitions this season and acknowledged: “My club form has been a little bit inconsistent, so I wasn’t expecting to be in the squad, that happens.
“But when I got the call, I’m always happy to come away with England – work hard and when I knew I was going to get the opportunity I thought I’ve got to take it with both hands. I’ve done all I can tonight and we will go from there.”
He continued: “I just wanted to enjoy every moment, not put any pressure on myself and go out there and enjoy it. My family and friends are here to watch and what a moment for them to watch me and also for myself.”
Watkins is one of several strikers fighting for a place in Southgate’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar at the end of this year.
And he said: “I think that’s every boy’s dream to play at a World Cup. It’s where all the superstars play; it’s probably the biggest competition in the world, that’s the dream but I’ve got to take each step at a time.”
With Harry Kane starting tonight’s contest on the bench, it gave Sterling another chance to captain his country.
The Manchester City star grew up in the shadows of Wembley’s arch and even has a tattoo on his arm with a ten-year-old boy looking up at the iconic stadium.
Sterling said: “It’s a great privilege. Never in my wildest imagination as a young player coming through did I think I could captain England one day. And that comes with maturity and just seeing that in you, the passion and love I have for the country and it’s always a great reward.
“It’s never something I’d have ever imagined, [the kid that lived over the road] would have been very proud and felt it was a great honour.”
Despite being only 27 himself, Sterling is one of England’s most senior and most respected members of the Three Lions squad and is someone who attempts to take younger players under his wing, such as fellow Brent footballer Tyrick Mitchell.
He said: “I always have this thing where I remember me coming through as a young player and it’s just always nice when senior players put their arm around you and try and make you feel comfortable because it’s a new environment at the end of the day and that’s all we can do is try and make the new ones as comfortable as possible so they can play as best as they can.”
Tonight also provided Jack Grealish with another chance to impress from the starting XI and he was heavily involved in a lot of England’s attacking play, including providing the assist for Sterling’s goal.
Grealish said: “I’m just happy to get goals and assists. They’ve been quite difficult to come by at [Man] City. Since I’ve made my debut I’ve had quite a few assists, so I want to continue contributing and playing well because I really, really enjoy it.
“At the end of the year we have the World Cup and I need to keep trying to impress the manager to get into that squad. All I can do is carry on trying to improve and play well.”
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It was a comfortable victory for England, during an evening where there were a number of positives.
But Southgate was left unhappy with the reaction of a section of supporters after Harry Maguire appeared to be jeered by some inside Wembley Stadium.
Southgate said: “I thought the reception was a joke, an absolute joke. What he has done for us, the way he has performed for us has been absolutely phenomenal. I don't get it. We're either all in this together or we're not.
"He's in an England shirt and not only should you support a player in an England shirt regardless, but when he’s played at the level he has and put the performances in he has, it should be total commitment behind him. I don't get that at all.
"For his performance, pretty faultless really. He stepped out from the back really well for the first goal and was involved in the second as well. The team are totally united. We recognise everybody has difficult moments but he's a top player and he will come through it.”
He continued: "They are real England fans and some are influenced by whatever - social media or players that played previously who are influencing opinion. The club situation is obviously very difficult but he's in an England shirt.
“I remember decades ago a couple of players being booed in an England shirt and it's never been acceptable. I’ve never got it – why are people going to play any better? Fans should always get behind their team.”