London (AFP) – England beat Lithuania 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Sunday. Here AFP Sport looks at five things learned as Gareth Southgate’s team moved a step closer to next year’s finals in Russia:
Handed his first England appearance since November 2013, Jermain Defoe made up for lost time as the Sunderland striker netted the opening goal in typically ruthless fashion.
Recalled after scoring 14 Premier League goals this season, the 34-year-old was at the sharp end of all England’s most threatening attacks and boss Gareth Southgate will be satisfied he has a solid alternative while Tottenham forward Harry Kane recovers from his ankle injury.
Defoe has never been renowned for the quality of his work outside the penalty area, but the former Tottenham star comes alive inside the 18-yard box and he underlined his predatory instincts with a composed close-range finish in the 22nd minute.
Defoe’s 20th England goal was his first since he netted against San Marino four years ago, and he came close to adding to his tally twice before departing to a standing ovation in the 59th minute.
Introduced as a 60th minute replacement for Defoe, Jamie Vardy took just six minutes to stake his own claim for the prized role at the head of England’s attack.
After struggling for much of the season with Leicester, Vardy has emerged from his slump in recent weeks and he maintained that revival with a masterclass in the striker’s art.
Aware that Adam Lallana was about to slip a pass in his direction, Vardy was quicker to react than his markers as he beat the offside trap with ease and guided a cool finish past Ernestas Setkus.
Vardy’s sixth England goal was a well-timed reminder that, five years after playing in non-league football, he could still develop into a genuine international class finisher at the age of 30.
Ox out of sorts
Despite some underwhelming performances for Arsenal this season, Southgate gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to impress in a deep-lying midfield role and must have been disappointed with the response.
Having failed to live up to the early hype around him, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future at Arsenal is in doubt and his England career is hardly on much firmer ground after this timid effort.
Against a Lithuania side with precious little quality, this was a game crying out for a dominant midfielder to dictate the tempo, but instead Oxlade-Chamberlain gave away possession far too often and rarely supported the attack to any positive effect.
Restored to the starting line-up after missing the Germany friendly, Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling added some much needed poise and pace to the England attack.
With England labouring to prise open the massed Lithuania defence, Sterling took matters into his own hands with a scintillating raid down the left and delivered a perfectly-placed cross that Defoe finished off with aplomb.
Sterling was the target for some crunching challenges as Lithuania tried to kick him into submission, but he kept his head and might feel hard done by to have been replaced by Marcus Rashford in the second half.
Work in progress
Southgate won’t get many plaudits for his team’s stodgy performance and the England manager would be foolish not to realise there is still a lot of improvements needed before the World Cup.
England’s defeat in Germany was their first in four games under Southgate and, while they were never in danger of an embarrassing setback against a side ranked 107th in the world, he should be alarmed by the way his team were easily held at bay for long periods.
Reverting to a back four after playing three at the back against Germany seemed unnecessary against such defensive opposition and, although England stretched their unbeaten run in qualifiers to 34 matches, the top sides lying in wait in the finals won’t be quaking in their boots.
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