Defoe opens door for place at 2018 World Cup finals
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Jermain Defoe hopes his scoring return for England on Sunday can start a new international chapter in his career.
The 34-year-old marked his 56th cap with a typically astute strike after 21 minutes against Lithuania in their Group F World Cup qualifier, fully justifying his return after an absence of three-and-a-half years.
Defoe has scored 14 Premier League goals for a Sunderland side nailed to the foot of the table virtually all season and showed on Sunday that he has lost none of his sharpness.
England's next match is against Scotland in June and providing he stays fit it seems likely Defoe will again be part of Gareth Southgate's plans with the manager hinting that next year's World Cup is also a possibility.
"Obviously I've got to go back to my club and make sure we finish the season strong," said Defoe, who made his England debut in 2004 but was overlooked for the 2014 World Cup after joining MLS outfit Toronto.
"I'll keep my head down and see what happens."
"Yeah it's good to be back. Just to win the game was important and we did that. It's hard to put in words really to be back," added Defoe who walked on to the pitch holding the hand of terminally ill young fan Bradley Lowery with whom he has struck up a friendship since learning of his plight.
With captain Wayne Rooney's international days looking numbered after he failed to make the squad, and a lack of regular English scorers in the Premier League other than the currently injured Harry Kane and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, Defoe's renaissance is something of a bonus for Southgate.
Asked if Defoe was a realistic option for next year's World Cup finals, when he will be 35, Southgate offered the former West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur player room for optimism.
"We've got to look every time we get together as to who's in form," Southgate said. "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.
"The reality is that you will always lose players to injury and it's really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain. 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)."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)