LONDON • England manager Gareth Southgate said there was no reason why Jermain Defoe could not play at next year's World Cup, after the striker marked his international comeback with a goal.
The 34-year-old Sunderland player scored the opener as England toiled to a 2-0 qualifying win over Lithuania on Sunday, following close to 31/2 years in the international wilderness.
He has scored 14 goals for Sunderland in the Premier League this season, but he also owed his international recall to the absences through injury of Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge.
"I think we've got to look every time we get together as to who is in form," Southgate said after the match at Wembley. "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. 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 he does like he did today.
"If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there's no reason why he wouldn't be (picked for the World Cup)."
England v Lithuania: talking points
HINTS OF PROGRESS UNDER SOUTHGATE
After an honourable friendly defeat by Germany, England showed just enough speed and clever movement to unhinge Lithuania, who aspired to do nothing more than erect human barricades around their box from the opening minute.
Both goals were beauties but there were also bouts of familiar stodginess.
At least Gareth Southgate has made some bold selections and suggested he has a plam as well as the strength and clarity of thought to implement it.
The true tests lie ahead but Southgate has made a fair start.
ARSENAL REPRESENTATIVE MAKES LITTLE IMPRESSION
With Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere all failing to develop as hoped and Danny Welbeck still working his way back from injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the only Arsenal player with a chance to enhance his international credentials at Wembley.
But the midfielder did not seize the initiative. His passing was not wayward but it was not particularly sharp or inventive.
HART DOES LITTLE TO INSPIRE CONFIDENCE
Aside from the coin toss, Joe Hart basically had two jobs to do in his first home match as captain and he did not do either very well.
The goalkeeper was found wanting just before half-time as he bungled his attempt to tidy up, mis-timing his challenge as Vykintas Slivka headed the ball towards the net. Fortunately for Hart, John Stones got back to clear.
Given Hart spent most of the match observing play, he could have proved he is useful with his feet by contributing to buildups. But he preferred to play safe and looked jittery the few times he had to kick the ball.
WALKER'S RAIDS ON THE RIGHT CARRY REAL MENACE
Kyle Walker, who hurtled up the right wing from start to finish, threatened to dislodge the Lithuanian defence nearly every time and delivered a couple of exquisite crosses.
The Tottenham full-back's marauding is becoming a regular feature of England matches and, if he continues to improve, he may finally get his name on the scoresheet, which he has not yet done in 25 appearances.
Defoe's 20th international goal arrived in the 22nd minute, as he directed a side-foot shot past Ernestas Setkus following a burst down the left by Raheem Sterling.
Substitute Jamie Vardy notched the hosts' second goal in the 66th minute, finishing coolly after being set up by Adam Lallana's exquisite flicked pass.
Sterling and Lallana were given freedom to roam alongside Dele Alli in England's 4-2-3-1 system and Southgate hailed their contributions.
"He's a player we really like," he said of Manchester City winger Sterling. "We don't have a lot of players in the country who can beat people in one-versus-one situations and he's explosive in those types of areas.
"He's improving all the time and has the hunger and desire to improve."
On Lallana, Southgate said: "Adam injects something. He created a really good opening just before the first goal. The game in tight areas is where his quick feet and quick brain stand out.
"There weren't so many opportunities for us to turn the ball over high up the pitch, but he starts that press off. I'm really impressed with his mentality and quality."
Having successfully tested a 3-4-2-1 formation in last week's 0-1 friendly loss to Germany, Southgate opted for a 4-2-3-1 shape against Lithuania.
"The good thing now is every coach who plays against us has got to prepare for two systems," he said. "They're going to have to work a bit harder, which is great."
Victory left England four points clear at the top of Group F, but, ahead of the June trip to old foes Scotland, Southgate sounded a note of caution.
"The group is in our hands, which is the most important thing," he said. "But we know what Scotland will be like and we have to play on a plastic pitch in Lithuania. We have to keep improving with every performance."
Defeat saw Lithuania's hopes of qualifying for a first major tournament recede further, but manager Edgaras Jankauskas said his side would draw encouragement from their battling display.
"We know how much work we have to do to improve," he said. "But we have qualities that can guide that improvement - dedication and application, which are qualities we showed today. I think everyone can see that."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN