Philippine football

Etheridge says mental shift needed as Azkals ‘accepted mediocrity’

Juro Morilla

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Etheridge says mental shift needed as Azkals ‘accepted mediocrity’

FIGHTING FORM. Azkals forward Patrick Reichelt disputes the ball against Afghanistan.


‘I just wanted to change something. I felt like over the last five years probably, we didn’t have the winning mentality,’ says Philippine men’s football veteran Neil Etheridge

MANILA, Philippines – It may have just been a friendly game, but Philippine men’s football stalwart Neil Etheridge got all worked up for a reason. 

Etheridge, lamenting that the Azkals seem to have “accepted mediocrity” the past years, felt glad to finally see the team put up a fight, scoring a 2–1 victory over Afghanistan on Tuesday, September 12.

“The emotion is always tough. I mean, I’ve been a part of this team 15 years now, someone reminded me earlier,” said Etheridge, who wore the captain’s armband in the past two friendly matches.

“I just wanted to change something. I felt like over the last five years probably, we didn’t have the winning mentality.”

The veteran goalkeeper said he’s been working with Azkals head coach Hans Michael Weiss to help bring back the team’s winning mindset. 

Weiss, in turn, commended Etheridge for being the “mental coach” of the team, often delivering “very good speeches before the games” and the “man who supports the winning mentality process.”

“I felt like we accepted mediocrity and I wanted to bring something, and coach allowed me to bring a mentality to this where it’s win at all costs,” said Etheridge.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the team many, many years ago, which I don’t want to keep going back to, which weren’t as technically good as this team, but they had a mentality that we had to win.”

“I think why I got so emotional after the game… because it will be the first time in a long time I’ve seen them fight from an Azkals team,” he added.

In the match, second-half Azkals substitute Sebastian Rasmussen equalized at the 74’ mark with a powerful left-footed shot, while Christian Rontini towered above everyone inside the penalty box and headed in the ball to push the Philippines over Afghanistan.

“Sebastian comes on, and I’m so happy Rontini gets his goal, honestly, after everything we had… I just want togetherness, I want to build a winning mentality,” said Etheridge.

“For me, this is the start of something, [the] togetherness that I’m trying to do as team captain, both off the field and on the field. We need to fight together.” 

After the come-from-behind win, Weiss said he still “needs more” from the Azkals as they gear up for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 joint qualifiers in November.

“We are very, very happy, but I feel that it’s the first step only because it’s still not there,” said the 58-year-old German coach.

“When you play against Syria or Palestine, or even Vietnam already, it’s a different level. It’s really, really difficult so we have to step up more than [the game against Afghanistan].”

“The next camp in October in the Middle East will hopefully lift us to the next level.” –

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