Gareth Southgate hailed the positive impact that Jermain Defoe has had on his squad as England ran out 2-0 winners over Lithuania on Sunday.
England took another step towards securing qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as they eased to a 2-0 win over minnows, Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday, and seize control of their group ahead of Slovakia and Slovenia.
The visitors had manager Edgaras Jankauskas set them up defensively as they sought to frustrate England. But Jermain Defoe, who was making his first international appearance in more than 3 years, broke the deadlock midway through the first half with a clinical finish from Raheem Sterling’s low cross.
Second half substitute Jamie Vardy, then, sealed the win in the 66th minute as he converted from close-range following Adam Lallana’s deft touch inside the Lithuania box, overcoming their lowly opposition with relative ease.
Gareth Southgate was taking charge of his first match at Wembley following his permanent appointment as the England boss, and he was full of praise for the comeback man, Defoe in particular for the impact he has had following his return to the national setup.
Speaking in his post-match assessment, Southgate said,” It was a great moment for him. He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad. He has enjoyed his week immensely. His professionalism was great for some of the other players to see. He’s had a really positive impact on everybody.”
Southgate further stressed the importance of form while selecting his squad, insisting that players will not be selected on name, as evidenced by the return of Defoe into the England squad for the first time since late 2013.
He added,” We’ve got to look every time we get together as to who’s in form. I don’t know if we can have a pecking order because players that are playing well deserve that opportunity. We’ve got to have that competition for places.”
Finally, Southgate left the door open for Defoe to make his squad for next year’s World Cup, putting the onus on the Sunderland striker to continue his impressive form for his club.
” The reality is that you will always lose players to injury. It’s really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain. But if he’s scoring goals in the Premier League and playing as well as he has this season, there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t [go to the World Cup].”
Defoe’s story is that of hope, following what has been a highly impressive return to the Premier League with Sunderland. The 34-year-old is in the twilight years of his career, but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the top scorers in English top flight in recent seasons.
In all, Defoe has netted 36 times in 84 games for Sunderland, with 14 of those goals coming this season, and he is currently one of the top goalscorers in the Premier League for 2016/17. Should he continue to play like he has for the Black Cats, there’s every reason to believe that Defoe will be a part of Southgate’s squad in the World Cup next year.