England manager Gareth Southgate has claimed Dele Alli’s lewd gesture was directed at team-mate Kyle Walker and not the referee during a 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Slovakia.
Goals from Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford helped England come from behind to win at Wembley on Monday, as they close in on a place in the finals at Russia next year.
Alli appeared to leave himself at risk of retrospective disciplinary action, television cameras having pictured the Tottenham star apparently using his middle finger to express displeasure at a decision made by French match official Clement Turpin.
But, speaking to the media after the game, Southgate claimed the attacking midfielder was merely interacting with a former Spurs team-mate.
“Dele and Kyle Walker were messing about and Dele made the gesture towards Kyle,” he told a news conference.
“They have a strange way of communicating!”
When he was earlier asked about the incident during an ITV interview, Southgate, taken somewhat aback, said: “You’ve only just told me, just before we started.
“[I’ve] not seen it. Obviously, we’ll have a look at it over the next couple of days.”
While Alli ultimately grabbed the spotlight for the wrong reasons, Rashford was deservedly named man of the match for shrugging off the mistake he made in the build-up to Slovakia’s opener.
The Manchester United teenager set up Dier’s equaliser and struck the winner from outside the area to earn the praise of his manager.
“He showed, like the rest of team, great character, he’s obviously made the mistake for the goal but kept persevering, was a real threat, as did the whole team. They kept going,” Southgate said.
“And I’ve got to say… the crowd were brilliant tonight. At a goal down the crowd really stayed with us and that was of huge importance to the team.”
Pressed on how Rashford compares to the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney at similar stages of their England careers, Southgate sounded a note of caution.
“It’s very early,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep things in perspective. He is exciting. There’s a bit of reward for us. We gave him last summer off from going with the [Under] 21s. He can have an impact in games but there’s a long way to go.”
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