17 October 2016

Neil Etheridge’s advice to the Azkals: ‘The team needs to have a strategy in the knockout rounds’

By Anthony Suntay
The Suzuki Cup, the region’s premier tournament for football, is primarily credited for the resurgence of the sport here in the country.
After a breakthrough performance six years ago, it brought the Azkals, our national squad, on equal footing with other teams like Gilas Pilipinas.
Players like Phil and James Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong, and Neil Etheridge became household names.
The Younghusband brothers will again be competing, Chieffy has retired from international competition and is now on the coaching staff. Neil was raring to be on the squad, but because of duties with his domestic league in the UK, he will not be able to tend the goal in the Azkals campaign.
Here are his thoughts as the Suzuki Cup hits town in a few weeks, with our country hosting the event for the very first time.
PHILIPPINE STAR: It must be tough for you to be missing another Suzuki Cup.
NEIL ETHERIDGE: It’s disappointing for me on a personal level because the experiences that I gained from that cup competition when I was younger were second to none, the atmosphere, the intensity, and the teams pulling together to gain victory.
Is it even more disheartening that this year it’ll be played in Manila?
The competition being played on home soil, of course, is even more frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do about the games being held outside international dates so I try not to think about the situation, but no doubt I will be watching and cheering the Azkals on from England.
The supporters in Manila will play a large factor, getting behind the team and cheering it on, acting as the 12th player. Our past home performances have been good so I hope that this can continue into the Suzuki Cup.
But the squad looks solid, despite your absence.
The team has looked strong and resilient in the past games that I played in. I know we still have some injuries, but the squad has looked compact and together with a great changing room atmosphere which plays a big part.
Your advice to the Azkals?
I don’t think it really matters what group we were drawn into, both look extremely hard, maybe with our group being slightly more difficult. I believe the team needs to really take each game on its own merit. Each individual game will be tough and have its own hurdles to jump.
But thinking about the semi-finals too early may be a downfall.
First, the team will need to concentrate on getting out of the group and then have a strategy, playing both home and away, in the knockout rounds.
On a personal note, how are you doing in your domestic league?
The season started with a great win, followed by a few results that didn’t go our way, but I could see potential. The team is completely new from last year, very young and some with minimal experience.
As the season goes on, I’m sure we will gel even more on the field, as behind the scenes, the team has a great work ethic and atmosphere.
On a personal level, I have been playing well and I know I need to keep it up throughout the season to play my part in this team.
The league this season is extremely hard. Former Premier League side Bolton was unbeaten until it came to our place. And that also shows maybe the importance of home court advantage.


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