Dele Alli says middle finger was in jest to Kyle Walker, not aimed at referee

Dele Alli says his middle-finger salute during England's win over Slovakia was aimed at his teammate Kyle Walker in jest and not the referee.

Alli had just endured a rough challenge from Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel, but referee Clement Turpin waved play on.

Cameras then caught Alli showing his middle finger in the direction of Turpin after he had turned away, an action that could result in retrospective punishment if it is included in the referee's match report.

But after England secured a 2-1 win, Alli wrote on Twitter that Turpin was not the target of his gesture, but rather it was intended for Walker, his former teammate at Tottenham.

England coach Gareth Southgate, initially unaware of the incident, said before Alli's tweet that the player had told him the same story.

"I've not seen it but I've been made aware of it," Southgate said. "Kyle and Dele were mucking about, and Dele's made a gesture towards Kyle.

"I don't know what's been visible on the pitch, or what the angle of the pitch was.

"The pair of them have a strange way of communicating, but that's what they've said when it's been raised. Without seeing it, I've literally just gone and asked him quickly."

Whether Alli and Southgate's claims are accepted by FIFA remains to be seen.

In March, Lionel Messi was suspended four competitive games for Argentina for verbally abusing a match official, though that ban was later lifted on appeal for insufficient evidence.

FIFA rules call for "at least four matches for unsporting conduct toward a match official."

Should Alli be dealt a similar ban, he could miss England's final two World Cup qualifiers and the first two games of the finals in Russia if England win their group, or the UEFA playoff tie instead if England finish second.

The win took Southgate's side five points clear at the top of Group F, with Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford providing the goals after England fell behind early to a Stanislav Lobotka opener.

Southgate was keen to focus on Alli's fine play against Slovakia, rather than the gesture.

"For me, what it does is detract from what was his best performance for us since I've been the manager," Southgate said. "His work without the ball was top drawer, intelligent positions and turning people over. He made fantastic runs behind the opposition defence and was a threat.

"I don't know what the angle picked up by the camera is, so I don't know if that is clear. Hopefully we'll be talking about that."