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Sterling has the firepower Three Lions need: Kyle

By Liam Twomey

Kyle Walker has leapt to the defence of England and Manchester City team-mate Raheem Sterling, insisting that the 23-year-old should not have been forced to explain the decision to get a tattoo of a gun on his right leg.

Sterling felt compelled to clarify that the image was intended as a tribute to his father who was shot and killed when he was two years old, after the front page of The Sun newspaper last month described it as "sick" and linked it to gun crime.

England manager Gareth Southgate and the Football Association were both swift to come out in support of Sterling, whose lifestyle off the field has prompted a barrage of scrutiny and criticism from some sections of the English media in recent years.

Walker has become good friends with Sterling since moving to City from Tottenham last summer, and feels his team-mate should not need to justify what he chooses to do in his personal life.

"Should he have had to have come out and explain himself? I don't believe so," Walker said.

"It's his body, it's up to him what he does with his body. If I wanted to do something to my body then I wouldn't care what anyone else has to say.

"I feel it's a bit sad that he had to come and tell people that his dad died from a gun. It's personal to him."

Asked if he thinks some in the media pick on Sterling, Walker replied: "I think a little bit. It's just Raheem.

"He probably won't change for anyone, that's just him and I wouldn't want him to change for anyone because he's a lovely person.

"You guys have to fill papers, you have to write things and whatever you choose to write, that's your opinion.

"I know Raheem and deep down and he's a gentleman, a lovely guy.

"He might not always be portrayed like that but he's helped me massively.

"At Manchester City, on and off the field, if I've got a problem at home or a problem with football then I'm the first one to go to him and speak about it.

"He's got a heart of gold.

"He's my friend. He's my team-mate but first and foremost he's my friend and I'd defend him till the end of the earth."

Big things are expected of Sterling on the pitch in Russia, and Walker is backing his team-mate to deliver big for England.

"He's unbelievable," the defender added.

"He could be one of the best in the world by far.

He scares defenders, he scares me when he's running at me.

"I just have to put my body in the way and hope he has to run round me!" Walker is also adamant that the possibility of racist abuse in Russia will not deter his family from travelling to the tournament to support him, after Danny Rose revealed that he has told his parents to stay at home because he fears for their safety.

"My dad is big enough and can stick up for himself, I can assure you of that," he said.

"My mum and dad are going out, my missus and my oldest son. It does concern me a little bit but if I sat there and thought all my life about dos and don'ts then I wouldn't get anywhere. I'd just stay in my house."

Ashley Young also insisted he has no concerns over his family travelling out to support the Three Lions.

England will train today and their campaign begins on Monday with a Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd.

There are widespread concerns surrounding racism on the eve of the World Cup, with the Russian Football Union fined £22,000 by Fifa for racist chanting in a March friendly against France in St Petersburg.

Such potential flash points led to Tottenham defender Danny Rose asking his family to remain behind at home amid fears of racist abuse.

But Young will have his family present at the games and backed the Football Association's security measures to keep everyone safe.

"I've got no concerns at all," the Manchester United winger added.

"I've got a family that are going out there.

"The FA have spoken to us security-wise and I've got every confidence in them and with family going out there."

England's 23-man squad includes 11 black, Asian and ethnic minority players - the highest number they have taken to any major competition.

Among them is Arsenal forward Danny Welbeck, who is looking forward to returning to Russia having played against CSKA Moscow in the Europa League last season.

"I am looking forward to it. I am excited. I think every single player is," he said.

"We're all really looking forward to going and getting out there.

"I went there a couple of months ago with Arsenal and things were fine.

"There were no troubles or worries whatsoever, so I've had the experience of going there not so long ago.

"I can't wait to get back with England."

Ahead of their departure, the official squad photograph was released with every player and member of coaching staff present.

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