England return was emotional occasion for Jermain Defoe

26 March 2017 09:53

Jermain Defoe struggled to keep his emotions in check after hitting the target on his first England appearance in three and a half years.

The Sunderland striker has not worn the Three Lions since November 2013 but showed he has lost none of his poacher's pedigree when his first-time finish teed England up for a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

It was the 34-year-old's 20th goal at international level, coming four years and four days since his 19th, but there was another reason the moment felt special.

Defoe was accompanied on to the pitch by terminally-ill five-year-old Bradley Lowery, the Sunderland fan with whom he has formed a "best mates" bond in recent months.

Joe Hart was named England captain for the evening but insisted Defoe and Lowery lead the team out.

"It's hard to put into words really," Defoe told ITV when asked about the experience.

"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."

Defoe made a point of never retiring from international football, even when a move to Major League Soccer appeared to spell the end of such ambitions, and has successfully put himself in World Cup contention next summer.

For that to happen he would not only have to maintain form and fitness but also - potentially - Premier League status.

As things stand he looks unlikely to get that stage with rock-bottom Sunderland, but for now he is happy to take things one step at a time.

"Obviously I've got to go back to my club and make sure we finish the season strong," he said. "Like I've always done, I'll keep my head down and see what happens."

Hart kept his fifth clean sheet in as many qualifiers - making England the only European side to boast such a record - but accepted the game would not live long in the memory.

''It wasn't pretty, but we got the goals we wanted,'' he said.

''I thought they were a better team than maybe they gave themselves credit for. We'd have loved to score five or six, but we didn't.''

Asked if he had a taste for the armband now, a diplomatic Hart said: ''Wayne Rooney's our captain. It was a proud moment to captain your country, but I know my place in the team.''

Source: PA

World Cup Group G

Belgium 1 0 0 3 3
England 1 0 0 1 3
Tunisa 0 0 1 -1 0
Panama 0 0 1 -3 0
Last updated : 08:44