scores on return as England beat Lithuania
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[March 27, 2017]
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Jermain Defoe
justified his recall from the international wilderness by scoring
the first goal as England ground out a labored 2-0 win over
Lithuania to stay on course for the World Cup finals at Wembley
Stadium on Sunday.
Substitute Jamie Vardy was also on target for Gareth Southgate's
side in a one-sided, dreary victory that kept England top of
qualifying Group F with 13 points from five games.
It was hardly an emphatic performance against a side ranked 93
places lower than England in the FIFA rankings and Southgate was
right to say he would not be eulogizing about it.
He heaped praise, however, on the 34-year-old Defoe who, three and a
half years after his last cap, became the sixth oldest player to
score for England when he pounced for his 20th international goal in
the 21st minute.
"He was thrilled to be back in the squad and his professionalism has
been great for some of the younger players to see," Southgate told
reporters after his first competitive game since being named as
full-time manager in November.
"I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage today. He
has had a really positive impact on everybody."
After earning plaudits for their bright play in a 1-0 friendly
defeat by Germany in midweek, England were expected to rout
Lithuania but plodded along for the first 20 minutes, failing to
test Ernestas Setkus's goal despite overwhelming possession.
It took Defoe, back in an England shirt for the first time since
November 2013, to inject some spark.
He went close when latching on to Adam Lallana's clever reverse pass
to force a fine save from Setkus.
Then he fired England ahead with a typically sharp finish after
Raheem Sterling's burst of acceleration down the left saw the
Manchester City forward deliver an inviting cut back.
[to top of second column]
England's Jermain Defoe
celebrates scoring their first goal Action Images via Reuters / John
The lively Defoe flashed another snap-shot just wide
but England toiled away bluntly against Lithuania's yellow wall.
The hosts had a scare on the stroke of halftime when a clearly
offside Nerijus Valskis headed towards an open goal under pressure
from goalkeeper Joe Hart but his weak effort was cleared off the
line by a retreating John Stones.
Lithuania had a half-chance after the break when Vykintas Slivka's
deflected shot was comfortably gathered by captain Hart.
England responded with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's 25-metre effort
clawed away by a flying Setkus.
Defoe then made way for Vardy - with Marcus Rashford replacing
Sterling - and the Leicester City striker made an instant impact,
scoring with a neat finish from Lallana's pass.
"It was a case of job done," Southgate said.
"We'd have liked a bit more but only one team came to win the game
and it's always difficult to break down a packed defense as we did."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ian Chadband)
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