Etheridge back for one game

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star
Etheridge back for one game
Neil Etheridge

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Azkals will likely have Cardiff City’s Neil Etheridge for only one game in their milestone debut in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

In an interview on the program “The Football Connection” on Radyo Pilipinas, Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta said the association won’t force Etheridge to play for the entirety of the group stages to allow him to focus on the Bluebirds’ bid.

“We know the importance of Neil with Cardiff so he’ll play in the first game (of the Asian Cup) and go back (to Cardiff),” Araneta said.

Team manager Dan Palami said they won’t hold it against Etheridge – the first Southeast Asian to see action in the Premier League – if he couldn’t fully commit to the Asian Cup campaign.

“Neil has given a lot for the country since he was a teen. We have talked about the situation already and I understand his dilemma. He has my support on the decision he will make,” Palami said.

If the PFF’s initial plans push through, the 28-year-old Etheridge will be guarding the posts for the Azkals in their opening encounter against South Korea on Jan. 7. Michael Falkesgaard, who is recovering from an injury he suffered in the AFF Suzuki Cup semis, is expected to fill in the spot in the succeeding matches against China on Jan. 11 and Kyrgyzstan on Jan. 16. 

Fil-Danish Kevin Rey Mendoza of AC Horsens is also being eyed to make his Phl debut in the Continental showpiece. 

Etheridge’s club, which stood at 16th in the EPL, has a scheduled fixture against Gillingham in the FA Cup on the same day the Azkals are slated to play South Korea but will have a crucial assignment in league play versus Huddersfield Town on Jan. 12.

The Sven Goran Eriksson-coached Azkals are slated to be in Doha, Qatar by Dec. 27 to hold their final training sessions for the Asian Cup highlighted by a friendly against Asean kingpin Vietnam.

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