Football

Southgate: Defoe's in the World Cup reckoning

Southgate not ruling out including veteran striker Defoe in World Cup squad if England qualify

Gareth Southgate opened the door to Jermain Defoe playing at next year's World Cup Finals after the striker scored on his long-awaited England return.

The 34-year-old's performances at Sunderland have belied his advancing years and led to a surprising international turnaround, having last won an international cap in November 2013.

Defoe made his return in the World Cup Group F qualifier against Lithuania yesterday morning (Singapore time) and marked his 56th international appearance by sweeping home midway through the first half to set England on course for a straightforward 2-0 win.

"It's a great moment for him," Southgate said of England's Man of the Match, whose replacement Jamie Vardy completed the scoring.

"He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad, I think he has enjoyed his week immensely.

"He's been a good senior professional to have around the team, both in terms of the way he's trained, his professionalism, which has been great for some of the younger players to see, and his finishing in training and then today, which we expected, really.

POSITIVE IMPACT

"I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage today, so I think he's had a really positive impact on everybody."

It was a special day for a striker who has established himself in Southgate's thinking in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge.

Defoe, so devastated to be overlooked for the World Cup in Brazil three years ago, could now head to Russia next summer at the age of 35.

"I think we've got to look every time we get together as to who is in form," Southgate said, when asked if the striker was a realistic proposition for the 2018 World Cup.

"I don't know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity.

"If we are going to be successful, we have got to have that competition for places.

"The reality is we will always lose players to injury, we've never been able to field or pick a full cohort, so it's really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain and for him to have the impact he had in a game like today.

"But, if he is scoring goals in the Premier League and playing as well as he has this season, then there's absolutely no reason why he couldn't."

His effort against Lithunania was the 34-year-old's 20th goal at the international level, coming four years and four days since his 19th, but there was another reason the moment felt special.

Defoe was accompanied on to the pitch by terminally-ill five-year-old Bradley Lowery, the Sunderland fan with whom he has formed a "best mates" bond in recent months.

"It's hard to put into words really," Defoe told ITV.

"I had to keep my emotions (under control), obviously little Brad was with me.

"You can imagine how I felt doing that, having done it with my club as well, it was special.

"Just to be back playing with the lads was a great feeling. I enjoyed it, it's been a good week.

"Just to win the game was important and we did that." - PA SPORT

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