England winger Raheem Sterling has been defended by former Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge after the youngster's Euro 2016 performances were heavily criticised.
Sterling was left out of the team by manager Roy Hodgson for the last group match, a 0-0 draw with Slovakia, and is not expected to be recalled for Monday's last-16 tie against Iceland.
But Sturridge feels Sterling has been unfairly targeted with "harsh" criticism, hailing the 21-year-old as "one of the most talented players in the world" and backing his former colleague to continue developing.
"It is just a matter of time before you see him take his game to the next level and I am sure that will be very soon," Sturridge told BBC Radio 5 live.
"He doesn't worry too much about what people say. He has to worry about his game and that is it. That is all he ever does. He works so hard on the training field and is one of the most talented players in the world.
"We look at players playing for so many different countries but you can't name many 21-year-olds who have played as many first-team games at the highest level as Raheem has."
Sturridge feels Sterling's youth means he should be cut some slack and went on to back the Manchester City man to become a global star.
"I feel the criticism he has received has been harsh because he is 21," said Sturridge. "He has performed at the highest level for the last few years and has played for big clubs.
"In the games he has played for England, he has not performed as badly as people have made out - he has done quite well.
"We have to groom him, nurture him and help him become one of the best players in the world. I believe he can, because he has all the tools for it. You are still finding yourself and you are not a grown man at 21.
"Just let him continue and he will come good. That is fact because he does have the ability. It is important for people to understand he will come good and he will show everyone what he is about. I am sure of that and I can't wait to see it happen."
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