The Sunderland striker had 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 in their World Cup qualifier.
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.
“It’s hard to put into words really,” said Defoe.
“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.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said: “It’s a great moment for him. He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad. He’s been a good senior professional to have around.
“I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage. He’s had a positive impact.”
Report and verdict: Page 2