THE Philippines just released its lineup for its Asian Cup debut next year and there’s a glaring omission in the squad. Cardiff City no. 1 Neil Etheridge, the Azkals top keeper for over a decade now, is not in the squad.
A few weeks ago, Etheridge said he’d be available only for the Azkals first game and will miss the rest due to club committments, a situation that both the Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta and Azkals manager Dan Palami said they both understand.
To be honest, I was both surprised and disappointed. I never paid much attention to the Asian Cup before and I’ve always thought the players will be automatically released for Asia’s showcase tournament. I guess that’s not the case and the Philippines isn’t unique as Tottenham Hotspurs’ Son Heug-min will miss South Korea’s first two games of the tournament.
Neil also played a major part in us getting to the Asian Cup and playing in even one game would have been an apt reward.
I guess with Neil available only for one game, Sven Goran Eriksson didn’t bother to include him in the lineup though I’m sure most of the fans would have wanted to see our lone Premier League player in the Asian Cup.
I agree with Palami, though, there’s no question about Etheridge’s commitment to the national team as he has been flying back and forth for the past 10 years. Cardiff City, which has gained a lot of Pinoy fans the minute Etheridge signed up, is three points away from the relegation zone.
Etheridge is so busy tapping shots for Cardiff that he is second in the league when it comes to the number of saves, trailing Joe Hart. When you’re in the bottom five, you’re going to be a busy keeper.
With Etheridge out, Eriksson will be picking among Nathanael Villanueva, Michael Falkesgaard and Kevin Hansen to man the sticks and though Falkesgaard saw action in the Suzuki Cup, he was nursing an injury.
I haven’t seen Villanueva in action and Hansen will just be making his debut. So I guess our defense better step up in the Asian Cup.
Etheridge is the only notable snub as the rest of the veterans—Stephen Schrock, Phil and James Younghusband—will be there.
Our Asian Cup debut is less than two weeks away. We’re playing South Korea first on Jan. 7, China on Jan. 11 and Kyrgyzstan on Jan. 16. I won’t even speculate if we’d make the knockout stage, I just want a respectable debut for the team in the Asian Cup.