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Villa striker Watkins named in England squad for World Cup qualifiers

London (AFP) – Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone received their first England call-ups on Thursday ahead of three World Cup qualifiers.

England manager Gareth Southgate has named a 26-man squad for this month’s triple-header against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford had been widely tipped for a call-up but Southgate has turned to Watkins, who has impressed since joining Villa from Brentford last year.

“Bamford was very close. There’s a number of positions in this squad that have been really close calls and we felt we wanted an extra striker,” Southgate told Sky Sports.

“Both Ollie and Patrick in particular, their goals record has been good. We like the personalities of both. Ollie is a player we’ve had less interaction with in the past. It’s going to be good to get to know him.

“We like his pressing, the speed and the runs in behind. He’s got some improvement to make in linking the game, but in his first season in the Premier League at a big club, he’s done exceptionally well.”

Johnstone, who has shone for the embattled Baggies this season, gets his maiden call-up following an injury to Southgate’s first choice keeper Jordan Pickford.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is conspicuously absent from a squad that sees Luke Shaw, John Stones and Jesse Lingard return after long absences.

Borussia Dortmund’s teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham has been included despite fears that coronavirus travel restrictions in Germany would rule him out. 

Bellingham’s club team-mate Jadon Sancho misses out through injury.

England open their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign against San Marino at home on March 25.

They have an away fixture against Albania three days later and host Poland on March 31.

England squad to face San Marino, Albania and Poland:

Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Man United/ENG), Sam Johnstone (West Brom/ENG), Nick Pope (Burnley/ENG)

Defenders: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea/ENG), Conor Coady (Wolves/ENG), Eric Dier (Tottenham/ENG), Reece James (Chelsea/ENG), Harry Maguire (Man United/ENG), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa/ENG), Luke Shaw (Man United/ENG), John Stones (Man City/ENG), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Kyle Walker (Man City/ENG)

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Phil Foden (Man City/ENG), Jesse Lingard (West Ham/ENG), Mason Mount (Chelsea/ENG), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United/ENG), Declan Rice (West Ham/ENG), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton/ENG)

Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton/ENG), Harry Kane (Tottenham/ENG), Marcus Rashford (Man United/ENG), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal/ENG), Raheem Sterling (Man City/ENG), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa/ENG)

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