Editor's note: Hours after the announcement, Neil Etheridge was recalled by his mother club Fulham and will no longer be playing in the tournament despite being cleared by Bristol Rovers.
BANGKOK, Thailand - The Philippine national team gained a boost after goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was cleared by his club, Bristol Rovers to join the Azkals in Bangkok for the AFF Suzuki Cup.
With only a few days before the competition proper, the club announced that the Azkals stopper is set to miss their next two matches in the nPower League Two, to join the national team for the biennial tournament which is set to begin on Saturday, November 24.
On Wednesday morning Manila time, the official Rovers Twitter account posted: “Rovers will miss keeper Neil Etheridge for two games after tonight, as he goes to play for the Philippines #BristolRovers.”
Etheridge will miss the club’s next fixtures against Bradford on November 24 and against Wycombe on December 1. Coincidentally, the Azkals will also have their fixtures on the same dates against hosts Thailand and Myanmar respectively, with the match against Vietnam pegged on November 27.
On loan from English Premier League side Fulham FC until December, Etheridge joined the Rovers initially on a one month loan last September 20, but extended his contract until Christmas in hopes to improve the club’s standing in the league, who are currently at the bottom of the table facing relegation.
Who will play?
The Philippine Football Federation issued a release regarding the initial 22 players who left Manila for Bangkok on Tuesday, November 20. However the list is not yet final as coach Michael Weiss still has until Friday, November 23, to submit the final line-up.
Included in the initial squad are Marwin Angeles, Ian Araneta, Misagh Bahadoran, Joshua Beloya, captain Emelio Caligdong, Jeffrey Christiaens, Ref Cuaresma, Jason de Jong, Carlie de Murga, Rob Gier, Andres Gonzales, Chris Greatwich, Ray Jonsson, Nestorio Margarse, Demit Omphroy, Patrick Reichelt, Jason Sabio, Eduard Sacapano, Denis Wolf and Phil and James Younghusband.
Other players also expected to join the team in Bangkok are Jerry Lucena, Dennis Cagara, Paul Mulders and Angel Guirado.
It is still unsure who will see more minutes on goal between Etheridge and recent standout Ed Sacapaño. Sacapaño stood out in the Peace Cup for his outstanding goaltending, and most recently, for his crucial saves in the Azkals' game against Singapore in Cebu City on Thursday, November 15, which resulted in a 1-0 win.
In an interview on Monday, November 19, a day before the Azkals left for Bangkok, Sacapaño told Rappler that head coach Michael Weiss told him he would likely be the primary keeper in the Suzuki Cup.
But with 4 days until the Azkals' opener, the team's starting XI remains a mystery. - Rappler.com