Defoe handles adversity

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The Independent Football

Jermain Defoe admits the last three months of his career have been "difficult". The striker, who will lead the line for England Under-21s against their Croatian counterparts in tonight's friendly at Upton Park, revealed his feelings at the end of an eventful summer.

The 20-year-old striker ended last season by handing in a transfer request just 24 hours after his team, West Ham, had been relegated from the Premiership. The Hammers turned down his request but speculation has persisted that Manchester United are interested in him.

"It's been difficult but I try not to let myself get down about it because I love playing football," Defoe said. "Everyone knows there's a lot going on at the moment so I'm trying to take each day as it comes. This is a different season and I'm getting on with it, working hard and trying to enjoy my football."

The Newcastle United striker, Shola Ameobi, withdrew from the squad yesterday after suffering a minor swelling of the knee following his 17-minute appearance as substitute in the Magpies' 2-2 draw at Leeds United on Sunday. Tottenham's new forward Bobby Zamora pulled out on Sunday night with a thigh problem.

England Under-21 (v Croatia, 8.00 tonight, Upton Park): Murray (Wolves); Johnson (Chelsea), Parnaby (Middlesbrough), Clarke (Everton), Konchesky (Charlton); Pennant (Arsenal), Prutton (Southampton), Jenas (Newcastle), Barry (Aston Villa); Defoe (West Ham), Jeffers (Arsenal).