England manager Gareth Southgate is open to retaining Jermain Defoe in his squad for next year's World Cup if his attacking options are again depleted by injury. Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane and Liverpool hitman Daniel Sturridge all missed the qualifying win over Lithuania with fitness issues, leading Southgate to call on the evergreen Defoe to keep the Three Lions' route to Russia 2018 on track.
The 34-year-old was plucked out of the international wilderness for the first time since 2013 and marked the occasion with the opening goal on the way to England cementing their place at the top of Group F.
Jamie Vardy added a second after half time to secure the three points in Southgate's first competitive game in permanent charge of the team.
Defoe has scored 14 Premier League goals this season for relegation-threatened Sunderland, leading to his call-up in the absence of Rooney, Kane and Sturridge. Though England's next qualifying games don't come until they face Scotland on 10 June, Southgate would not hesitate calling on Defoe again later in the year, or for the World Cup next summer.
"It's a great moment for him to be back in the squad," he said. "I think he's enjoyed his week immensely.
"He's been a good senior professional around the team both in terms of the way he has trained, his professionalism and his finished training and today, which we expected really.
"I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage today. He's had a positive impact on everybody.
"We've selected him on form and we've got really good competition for places. We need to have that because we had players missing in this squad. So for him to come in is a real positive for us.
"We've got to look every time we get together at who is in form. I don't know if we can have a distinct pecking order. Players who are playing well have every opportunity. If we're going to be successful we've got to have that competition for places.
Fielding a full cohort
"The reality is we're always going to lose players to injury. We've never been able to field a full cohort. It is important that we're able to call upon the likes of Jermain and for him to have the impact like he did today. If he's scoring and playing as well as he has done this season there is no reason why he couldn't be [in the World Cup]."
Sunderland's plight at the foot of the table means that while the likes of Kane are playing Champions League football, Defoe could be featuring in the Championship. And Southgate has hinted he may have to stay in the top flight in order to retain his place.
"In an ideal world all of our players are playing at a high level and playing regularly," the ex-Aston Villa and Middlesbrough captain added.
"The flipside to that is we do not have a huge pool of players to pick from. We have to balance off a few different things. I can't constrain myself on selection entirely but I know what I want to have. His performances this season and goal-scoring form are the things that have got him here."
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