Evergreen Jermain Defoe inspires dreary England win over Lithuania

Nick Howson
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When the inevitable death of international football is eventually documented, a chapter will have to be devoted to the non-event that was England 2 Lithuania 0. It might just be the most significant detail about a 90 minutes which underlines the current crisis engulfing the game. Bar the odd exception, international football is an uncompetitive, irrelevant nuisance and is increasingly becoming a burden in an already saturated and bloated schedule.

That England can perform in a lethargic and ponderous manner in a game with the supposed gravitas of a World Cup qualifier and get away with it underlines the plight of this fraction of the game. Jermain Defoe did briefly sprinkle some theatre over the fixture with his first England goal for four years and four days to secure Gareth Southgate his first win since taking permanent charge of the Three Lions; but the truth of the matter is such particulars are mere footnotes. Substitute Jamie Vardy netted a much-needed second to extend England's advantage at the top of Group F but nothing could overshadow the insipidness of the performance.

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Jermain Defoe

England have now not lost a home qualifier for nearly 10 years but during the same period have taken seismic steps backwards. The sophistication of their football has been dramatically diluted, with any ambition or license squeezed out of them, leaving nothing but a withering symbol of the national game.

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But as long as England win, such issues will be overlooked. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked like he'd won the chance to play in midfield via a pre-match raffle. Dele Alli already looks dwarfed by the responsibility of being the team's most effective player. Lallana has all the flourish of a wedding cake but lacks regular substance.

Jamie Vardy

Most popular: Evergreen Jermain Defoe inspires dreary England win over Lithuania

Lithuania, ranked 107th in Fifa's world rankings were only matched for their unimaginative approach by their hosts. Nerijus Valskis did almost embarrass England on the stroke of half-time but John Stones cleared his goal-bound header after he was somehow not given offside. Joe Hart's blushers were spared as the officials had a brain fade.

But this wasn't a team trying to survive amid rare bouts of possession, in the hope of a chance coming at the other end. Despite the best efforts of members of the Lithuania media team on the press gantry - who unprofessionally kicked every ball like a die-hard fan - this could not be sold as a game with any resonance of balance. Damage limitation was the aim for manager Edgar Jankauskas. His side were not so much beaten in the tunnel but in the group stage draw.

Nerijus Valskis

International qualifiers are not littered with tales of David prevailing over Goliath but there is not even a whiff of that narrative existing in the current batch of fixtures. The line which separated friendlies, exhibition and competitive internationals is completely blurred. All three are now blended together.

Perhaps most worrying however is against the backdrop of the dwindling profile of international football, is the perverse lucrativeness of the matches for the likes of The Football Association. At complete odds with the subtext of the game, 77,690 people took a chunk out of their Mother's Day to attend a game which will not live long in the memory. That fans continue to part with their hard earned cash, in this case £65 in some areas of the ground, means cries from the influential corridors within FA headquarters for an overhaul are hardly likely to be forthcoming. Fifa president Gianni Infantino can rest assured in his own cash-padded Zurich office. And while he rests, the game dies.

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