Can Jermain Defoe sneak into Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad?
Jermain Defoe returned to the England fold with a goal, with attention already turning to his possible inclusion at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But are those hopes just a fantasy?
Defoe is back on the international scene after firing the opening goal in England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday.
The 34-year-old, earning his first start in nearly four years, staked his claim for an extended role in Gareth Southgate’s setup with a trademark poacher’s finish – and now has his eyes set on sneaking into the squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"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 and featured in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"I'll keep my head down and see what happens. 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."
WHAT SOUTHGATE SAID
"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)."
Jermain Defoe EnglandReuters
Only three Englishmen have scored more than 10 goals in the Premier League this season: Harry Kane (19), Defoe and Dele Alli (both 14).
Southgate only picked three strikers in his most recent squad, neglecting any target men (i.e. Andy Carroll), suggesting his strikers at the World Cup will come from the below group barring a sensational change. Only Kane is guaranteed a spot on the plane next summer, with the remaining contenders left to scrap over three (or so) spots...
Harry Kane (PL goals: 19)
The clear favourite to lead the line in Russia, Kane is the only striker scoring goals for a top club.
Jamie Vardy (PL goals: 8)
Impressed against Lithuania with the second goal and is back in form for Leicester City after an awful start to the season.
Marcus Rashford (PL goals: 3)
He may be starved of starts under Jose Mourinho, but the youngster always looks promising in his national colours – committing defenders and shooting on sight.
Daniel Sturridge (PL goals: 2)
Danny Welbeck (PL goals: 1)
Can he stay fit? He’s barely played any football since joining Arsenal after suffering a multitude of injury setbacks. But when’s he’s on-song, he’s looked very good for England.
WILL DEFOE GO THE WORLD CUP?
While Southgate has spoken about getting results immediately – and not always focusing on the future, as England tend to do – Defoe will be 35 when Russia rolls around. Only two strikers (Germany’s Miroslav Klose and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba) were older at the 2014 World Cup.
Defoe’s chief problem isn’t his age, though. Sunderland are haunted by relegation, leaving two likely scenarios for him next season: a) adjusting to a new club, or b) playing in the Championship. He’s got what he’s always craved, the opportunity to be a club’s leading striker, but it’s come at a side steered for the drop – the Black Cats are seven points adrift from safety with 10 games to play.
He has to be playing regularly in the Premier League to have any chance of going to the World Cup. Southgate will want to pick younger players at more established clubs, but if Defoe can keep outscoring them then he stays in the picture. With another club unlikely to hand him as many minutes, his best hope of prolonging his international career is by firing Sunderland to Premier League safety.