GOALKEEPER Neil Etheridge is determined to bounce back from his error-strewn performance against Uzbekistan when the Azkals face the Asian powerhouse again in the return leg of their Group H Asian Cup and World Cup Qualifying clash in Tashkent on Thursday.
With the squad severely depleted due to suspensions and injuries, the Azkals need Etheridge to rise to the occasion as the Filipinos try to keep third place in the group that would guarantee them a spot in Asian Cup third-round qualifying.
Skipper Phil Younghusband and regular starters Stephan Schrock, Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott are all missing the match while veterans Rob Gier, Paul Mulders and Jerry Lucena have retired from international play, leaving the side short on firepower.
Being one of the longest-tenured players in the side, the 26-year-old Etheridge understands the enormity of the task at hand.
“We have a few players out but it will be a great opportunity for those in the starting eleven,” said Etheridge, who made his debut for the Philippines in 2008 as an 18-year-old in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in Iloilo. “Even though these are extremely hard games, it’s a great chance for the coach to test players.”
Conceding a goal as early as the first minute due to a lapse in concentration, Etheridge was left crestfallen after the match against Uzbekistan that actually snapped the Azkals’ unbeaten start in the qualifying competition.
“That game is now in the past and I have moved on,” said Etheridge.
Since then, the Azkals have only picked up one point in the away draw against North Korea last October, eliminating them from contention for a third-round spot in the WCQ.
Etheridge did bounce back with improved performances for English third-tier side, Walsall, which is now in the thick of a promotion battle to the English Championship.
Etheridge arrived in Tashkent last Monday, linking up with other overseas-based players in the side like Javier Patino and Iain Ramsay.