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Watch: Villa striker Watkins named in England squad for World Cup qualifiers

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 said.

“Ollie is a player we’ve had less interaction with in the past. It’s going to be good to get to know him.

“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.

“Sam Johnstone, in a team that has had a difficult season, has kept a very good level of performance. It is a great opportunity for him,” Southgate said.

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.

Lingard is back after impressing on loan with West Ham following his January move from Manchester United.

“We have injuries in attacking areas which have opened up an opportunity for Jesse. I have to say his performances for West Ham have been excellent. We know he can perform at that level,” Southgate said.

“There is a space there. We trust Jesse and think he can play a big part in these three games.”

Stones’ recall after long-awaited return to form at Manchester City means the centre-back could make his first England appearance since November 2019.

“For a period we were not sure if he was going to be able to recapture that form,” Southgate said.

“When you invest that much time and as many caps in players like that and he disappears, it is a huge disappointment.

“John deserves huge credit for turning that around and finding a level of consistency. It is great to have him back.”

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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