Bogota (AFP) – Controversy engulfed Real Madrid star James Rodriguez in his native Colombia on Monday after he was photographed making an obscene gesture to journalists covering a Colombian national team training session.

Rodriguez gave the middle finger to journalists gathered outside the team’s practice on Friday in Bogota ahead of their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday against Ecuador.

The gesture — which is called “the pistol” in Colombia — drew criticism from some in a country where the baby-faced captain is an idol.

“James lost his head, and his composure,” sports editor Gabriel Meluk of Colombian daily El Tiempo wrote in a column.

A debate soon erupted on social media, with Colombians alternately criticizing and defending the 25-year-old star.

The picture even spawned its own hashtag on Twitter: #NoJodanAJames (“don’t fuck with James”), which was the social network’s top trending topic in Colombia.

Supporters said Rodriguez was likely under a lot of pressure ahead of the match, with Colombia occupying the last automatic qualifying place for next year’s World Cup in Russia, but only a point ahead of Ecuador and Chile.

“James Rodriguez is a humanly imperfect being. He puts up with a lot from the sports media’s yellow (tabloid) journalism and destructive stories,” wrote Twitter user Miryam Riveros.

The AFP photographer who captured Rodriguez’s gesture, Luis Acosta, said the footballer made it towards a group of journalists from a gym on the second story of the Colombian Football Federation’s headquarters.

Neither Rodriguez nor the FCF responded when asked for a comment.