England boss Gareth Southgate insists he would have no qualms about taking Jermain Defoe to next year’s World Cup after the veteran striker made a goalscoring international return for the Three Lions against Lithuania.
Sunderland hitman Defoe, handed his first England appearance since November 2013 against the eastern European minnows, netted a first-half opener before substitute Jamie Vardy made certain of victory in the second period.
Maximum points ensured England remain firmly in control of Group F, four points clear of second-placed Slovakia, and took another comfortable step towards qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Southgate did imply, however, that 34-year-old Defoe, who has netted 14 times for the relegation-threatened Black Cats this season, would need to continue finding the net at top-flight rather than Championship level.
“If he’s scoring goals in the Premier League, like he has this season, there is no reason why he can’t [go to the World Cup],” said Southgate.
“We’ve got to look every time we get together at who is in form. I don’t think we can have a distinct pecking order, because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful we’ve got to have competition for places. We’re always going to lose players to injury – we’ve never been able to pick a full cohort.
“It’s really important we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain because he can have the sort of impact he had today. I’d have put my house on him scoring today. The ideal world for all our players is that they’re playing at a high level. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely but I know what I’d ideally like to have.”
England had not lost a qualifying match since October 2009 and by the mid-point of the first half had a firm grasp on extending their unbeaten inter-tournament run to 34 matches.
Seconds after Defoe's shot had been repelled by the legs of Lithuania goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus, Raheem Sterling embarked on a scything run and his pass across the penalty area was predatorily sidefooted home by the former Tottenham striker.
Despite their dominance, England were indebted to centre-half John Stones moments before the break as he hooked clear from the goal-line as an offside-looking Nerijus Valskis nodded over advancing Three Lions skipper Joe Hart.
Against a side ranked No107 in the world, England struggled to conjure clear-cut chances after the restart until the 66th minute when Adam Lallana’s imaginative touch released Vardy, who caressed the ball beyond Setkus.
Vardy was unable to add a third as he misdirected a dink over Setkus having latched onto Marcus Rashford’s through-ball, while Eric Dier’s header from the Manchester United forward’s corner was equally errant.