Southgate: Defoe will get World Cup spot if league goals keep coming
Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine Livepic

As long as Jermain Defoe continues to score goals at the Premier League level, England manager Gareth Southgate said there is "no reason" why the 34-year-old won't make the final squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Defoe made the most of his first international call-up in nearly four years, scoring his 20th goal for his country in Sunday's 2-0 win over Lithuania. It kept the home side firmly in first place in Group F.

Injuries to Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane, coupled with the slumping form of skipper Wayne Rooney, paved the way for Defoe to play again for the Three Lions.

Related: Defoe justifies selection as England goes 34 qualifying matches unbeaten

But Southgate - who shared the pitch with Defoe when the London native made his international debut in March 2004 - has backed Sunday's match-winner to maintain his spot in the lineup.

"If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there's no reason why he wouldn't be involved in 2018," Southgate told reporters, including the Guardian's Dominic Fifield. "It was a great moment for him. He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad and he's enjoyed this week immensely.

"He's been a good senior professional to have around the team, both in terms of the way he's trained, the professionalism which has been great for the younger players to see and his finishing in training, and then today, which we expected really.

"I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage against Lithuania."

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Things could change if Defoe is unable to keep Sunderland afloat in the top flight. Rooted to the bottom of the league, the Black Cats are seven points away from safety.

Not that he hasn't done his part.

Defoe's 14 Premier League goals account for more than half of Sunderland's season-long total, but his efforts alone may not be enough.

"I guess in the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level," added Southgate.

Defoe encountered similar problems during his short stint with Toronto FC. Despite putting up impressive numbers in MLS, Defoe wasn't selected as part of then-head coach Roy Hodgson's 2014 World Cup squad.

But his performance at Wembley disproved any lingering doubts. That he took the field with five-year-old cancer-stricken fan Bradley Lowery - who has fostered a close relationship with Defoe - made the occasion all the more memorable.

"I had to keep my emotions in the beginning with little Brad with me," Defoe said. "It was special just to be back, and playing with the lads is a great feeling."

Southgate: Defoe will get World Cup spot if league goals keep coming
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