Football: Neil Etheridge fully intent on staying with Azkals and helping them move forward
Santino Honasan on May 23, 2019 05:38 PM
"Moving forward, I want to continue being part of the Azkals, I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give, " - Neil Etheridge (FILE PHOTO)
Filipino-British goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has every intention of suiting up for the Philippine Men's National Men's Football Team moving forward.
The 29-year old has been the Azkals' first-string keeper the better part of his eleven-year career with the national team, and he plans on keeping it that way.
"Of course, I want to be part of the Azkals going into the World Cup Qualifiers," Etheridge said in a press conference in Manila, Thursday morning. "I decided to play for the Philippines at 18 years old. I’m 29 now, so [since] eleven years ago, I’ve been with that team."
"Yes, people have said, ‘Is he just gonna play Premier League Football and just drop the Azkals?’ No, because I’ve been a part of that team for eleven years, and you don’t just drop something after eleven years," he continued.
More than just being on the team, Etheridge added that he would also like to be part of the team's progress moving forward, even if he has club commitments abroad.
"I want to be a part of it, I want to move it forward, I’d love to have the responsibility, not just from the Premier League or wherever I’m playing in England or Europe, I want to have a responsibility here. Moving forward, I want to continue being part of the Azkals, I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give, I just hope and pray that the Federation and everyone involved gets along the same lines and moves in the same direction."
While Etheridge was part of the lineup that ultimately clinched a historic spot in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, he wasn't able to join his Azkals during the tournament itself due to his club team commitments with Cardiff City FC.
Etheridge believes that while the Azkals were ultimately unable to record a win in the tournament, they were able to show that they indeed deserved to be on that stage of competition.
"Even though I wasn’t part of the Asian Cup, I think the team did extremely well, and they probably exceeded a lot of expectations without winning a game, they were very strong and they did very well," he said.
The promising Asian Cup performance, Etheridge hopes, will be a springboard for the Azkals and everyone involved to aim for an even better result moving forward.
"Do we just stop there and accept it? Or do we move forward and go ‘Right now, we want to try to qualify for the World Cup. Now we want to try to get to the next Asian Cup and do better.’ That’s what I want to see and I think everyone involved in that team wants the National Team, the Azkals to move forward, but that needs to, not just come from the players and the coaching staff, that needs to come from everyone behind the scenes all the way to the top."
More than just again qualifying for the Asian Cup, Etheridge hopes to be able to, in his career, see the Azkals earn a coveted spot in the FIFA World Cup.
"I’ve always said it, the Philippine National Team, the Azkals have really had a strong base, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play for the team for ten years. Maybe five years ago, we had a very strong team and people were wondering ‘Are we ever coming back to create a team like that?’ and we did and qualified for the Asian Cup, which is a massive achievement...I just hope that we can keep moving forward. Later on this year, we’ve got the World Cup Qualifiers, which I hope to be a part of, and we’ve created waves. First time we’ve ever qualified for the Asian Cup and I hope, maybe, in my career, that we’ll be able to qualify for the World Cup."
The Azkals return to the pitch for an international friendly match against China in Guangzhou on June 7th.
The second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will begin on September later this year, with the Philippines among the 40 teams to participate in the qualifying tournament.