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Ollie Watkins' journey: From living in Harry Kane's shadow to becoming England's unexpected Euro 2024 hero

Against the Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semi-final clash, Ollie Watkins seized the moment, notching the match-winning goal that not only sent England into raptures but also earned him the UEFA Man of the Match award.

football Ollie Watkins' journey: From living in Harry Kane's shadow to becoming England's unexpected Euro 2024 hero snt
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First Published Jul 11, 2024, 12:22 PM IST

In a stunning turn of events, Ollie Watkins emerged as the hero for England, securing their spot in the Euro 2024 final with a crucial goal in the dying moments of their semi-final clash against the Netherlands on Wednesday night. Gareth Southgate's bold substitution of Ollie Watkins, along with Cole Palmer, proved instrumental as they orchestrated a brilliant play in the 91st minute, overturning the match in favour of the 'Three Lions'.

Watkins, relatively unknown to many outside of Aston Villa, has had a remarkable season under manager Unai Emery, scoring an impressive 27 goals across all competitions, including 19 in the fiercely competitive Premier League. His achievement is notable, especially since none of his goals were scored from the penalty spot.

Watkins stellar performance earned him a surprise call-up to the England squad by Gareth Southgate, marking a personal milestone for the 28-year-old striker who had  only played 12 times and scored three goals before the match in Germany.

Throughout Euro 2024, Watkins had been patiently waiting for his opportunity, with limited game time until the crucial semi-final clash against Denmark, where he played a pivotal role off the bench. On Wednesday, as the match against the Netherlands intensified, Southgate turned to the player who lives in the shadow of Harry Kane, and he delivered a decisive goal that secured England's place in the final. UEFA also honoured him with the MVP award for his performance.

Unai Emery, who has closely observed Watkins' development at Aston Villa, praised his striker's dedication and hunger for improvement. "He is very competitive. Every day, when we finish training, he wants more. Sometimes we have to stop him and say: 'That's enough for today'. He is scoring a lot of goals because he is a very good striker. He has improved a lot in general terms, but we want to use our experience working with other attackers to help him continue to progress," remarked Emery, highlighting the Englishman's relentless work ethic and commitment to refining his game.

Watkins' achievement is a testament to the challenging journey he embarked on years ago to reach the pinnacle of football. He progressed through League Two and the Championship before attaining success in the Premier League and earning a spot on the English national team. Starting from humble beginnings, he played for clubs like Exeter City, Brentford, and Aston Villa. In 2015, he even competed in the sixth tier of English football with Weston Super Mare, where he initially didn't start games.

Watkins spoke after the game with pure joy. He shared that he had received numerous messages from friends predicting he would score the winning goal, which indeed came true: "The number of people who messaged me today saying I would score the winning goal was amazing. Hopefully, they can do the same on Sunday and maybe share their lottery numbers with me."

Looking ahead to the Euro 2024 final against Spain, Watkins expressed confidence tempered with respect for their formidable opponents. "Spain is a great football team. They have a lot of depth in their squad, like us. It is the most important match of our lives, but for now we want to celebrate it," Watkins emphasized, acknowledging the magnitude of the upcoming final in Berlin while relishing the opportunity to make a lasting impact.

As England prepares for the ultimate showdown, Watkins remains focused on the task at hand, buoyed by the support and belief of his teammates, fans, and the footballing community at large. His journey from obscurity to national hero is a testament to perseverance and passion, inspiring a nation and capturing the imagination of football enthusiasts worldwide.

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