Gareth Southgate opened the door to Jermain Defoe playing at next year’s World Cup after the striker scored on his long-awaited England return.
The 34-year-old’s performances at Sunderland have belied his advancing years and led to a surprising international turnaround, having last won an international cap in November 2013.
Defoe made his return in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania and marked his 56th international appearance by sweeping home midway through the first half to set England on course for a straightforward 2-0 win.
It was a special day for a striker who has established himself in Southgate’s thinking in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge.
Defoe, so devastated to be overlooked for the World Cup in Brazil three years ago, could even head to Russia next summer at the age of 35.
“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form,” Southgate said when asked if the striker was a realistic proposition for the 2018 World Cup.
“I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players that are playing well deserve the opportunity.
“If we are going to be successful, we have got to have that competition for places.
“The reality is we will always lose players to injury, we’ve never been able to field or pick a full cohort, so it’s really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain and for him to have the impact he had in a game like today.
“But if he is scoring goals in the Premier League and playing as well as he has this season, then there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t.”
Defoe struggled to keep his emotions in check as he wound back the years at Wembley, where he led the team out with Bradley Lowery, the terminally-ill five-year-old who calls the Sunderland striker his “best mate”.
“It’s hard to put into words really,” Defoe told ITV.
“I had to keep my emotions (under control), obviously little Brad was with me. You can imagine how I felt doing that, having done it with my club as well, it was special.
“Just to be back playing with the lads was a great feeling. I enjoyed it, it’s been a good week.
“Just to win the game was important and we did that. It’s hard to put in words really to be back.”