HITHADHOO, Maldives—Enduring a tough season at club level, the Philippines’ goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is hoping that his stint with the Azkals in the AFC Challenge Cup ends in a blaze of glory this time.
Playing for the Azkals has been a sanctuary for Etheridge the past few years.
While he was finding difficulty to get playing time from his club Fulham, he sparkled almost every time he donned the Philippines jersey, leading the Azkals to semifinal finishes in the 2010 Suzuki Cup and the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.
That’s why it pains him all the more that he sustained a quad injury that sidelined him in the match against Laos last night and possibly for the tournament.
Etheridge started on goal in the scoreless draw with Afghanistan last Tuesday in his first competitive match in two months. Following his injury, Roland Muller started in Etheridge’s place against Laos.
“I want to be fit and help the team,” Etheridge said. “I thought my competition was over, but I’m hoping I could still take part in the semifinals or finals if we get there or in the next game.”
Struggling with almost the same injury early in the season, the 24-year-old Eth eridge saw his club, Fulham, get relegated from the English Premier League early this month, a feeling he described as “devastating.”
“Being a part of the team that gets relegated is never nice,” said Etheridge, who has been part of Fulham since he was 15. “It’s devastating.”
But Etheridge’s contract with the club is also expiring this month and the Fil-British goalkeeper is keeping his options open and that includes playing in a club in the lower leagues of England or even beyond English shores.
He stressed that he is fully focused on helping the Azkals win the Challenge Cup and reach the Asian Cup in Australia next year.
“The future (at club level) is uncertain at the moment,” he said. “But my mind at the moment is 100 percent focused here in the Maldives to make history.”