Gareth Southgate has left the door open for Jermain Defoe to play his way into England’s World Cup squad after the striker scored on his international return.
Defoe netted on his first appearance for England for four years to open the scoring for Southgate’s team in their 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Lithuania at Wembley.
Substitute Jamie Vardy got England’s second goal, but it was the contribution of 34-year-old Defoe that was significant.
Despite the fact Defoe will be 35 when the World Cup starts in Russia, Southgate believes the veteran could be part of his squad.
Southgate did, however, let slip that he would like Defoe to still be playing in the Premier League next season, which may require him leaving bottom-of-the-table Sunderland.
“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there's no reason why he wouldn't be,” said England manager Southgate. “We're never able to pick a full cohort, so it's important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.
“I think we've got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. 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 to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.
“It’s a great moment for him (to score). He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad. He's 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 the younger players to see, and his finishing in training and then today, which we expected really.
“I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage. He's had a really positive impact on everybody. We've selected him on form. We've got really good competition for places. We need to have that. For the likes of Jermain and Michael Keane to come in and play as well as he has done has been a real bonus for us.”
Defoe last week admitted he may have to leave Sunderland if they go down and, asked to clarify what he meant by saying the former Tottenham Hotspur man needs to be scoring in the Premier League, Southgate added: “I walked into that. I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level.
“The flip-side is we don't 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 ideally what I'd like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”
Defoe, who walked on to the Wembley pitch with terminally ill Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery, was delighted with his dream return to the England set-up.
“Yeah it's good to be back,” he said. “Just to win the game was important and we did that. It's hard to put in words really to be back. I had to keep my emotions in at the beginning with little Bradley Lowery with me. You can imagine how I felt doing that having done it with my club as well. Just to be back playing with the lads felt good.”
On his chances of remaining in the squad, Defoe added: “Obviously, I've got to go back to my club and make sure we finish the season strong. Like I've always done, I'll keep my head down and see what happens.”
Southgate confirmed that he took Raheem Sterling off in the second half after the Manchester City winger had felt pain in his back.