England and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli has escaped with a one-game ban after displaying an offensive gesture during the World Cup qualifying win over Slovakia. Fifa adjudged the signal to be "unsporting", but accept that it was not directed towards referee Clement Turpin during the Three Lions' 2-1 win at Wembley.
Alli, who was selected in Gareth Southgate's 26-man squad for upcoming matches against Slovenia and Lithuania, will therefore be unavailable for the first of those encounters but could return for the second game in Vilnius. More importantly, the 21-year-old is free to play in next year's World Cup despite the threat of a lengthy ban.
Video footage captured Alli seemingly sticking his middle finger up in the direction of the match official, but the Tottenham star took to Twitter to claim the gesture was intended for former club teammate Kyle Walker. The defence was supported by manager Southgate after the game and though world football's governing body have sided with the player, they have handed down a one-game punishment.
Lionel Messi was initially banned for four matches for swearing at an official before the penalty was overturned on appeal. But whether the ban given to Alli, which includes a fine of £3800, will act as a deterrent for offensive language or lead to a succession of punishments for foul-mouthed abuse – which is regularly seen and heard on the field of play – remains to be seen.
"I've had a good chat with Dele about a lot of different things but the biggest disappointment for him is to miss football," Southgate said prior to news of the ban. "So the outshot of all of this is that he recognises the responsibility and it's important for him and us that he's available for games which he wants to play.
"He's a young player, a young man and young people are going to make mistakes – old people make plenty of mistakes. For certain, he knows something like what happened that night won't happen again."
Alli is currently serving a European ban and missed the second game of that three-match punishment against APOEL Nicosia in midweek. He will return to the Tottenham team this weekend when Mauricio Pochettino's side visit Huddersfield Town.
Victory for England against Slovenia will confirm automatic qualification for the World Cup in Russia, transforming the final qualifier in Lithuania next Sunday (7 October) into a virtual dead-rubber. Alli could even be left out of both games meaning he would be fresh for when the domestic season resumes, with Tottenham facing Bournemouth, Real Madrid and Liverpool in what promises to be a key week in the season.