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Etheridge brimming with confidence ahead of crucial Uzbekistan clash



Neil Etheridge returned to international duty three months ago by helping the Philippine Azkals seal two important wins to begin their 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign. The Filipino goalkeeper is having a great season so far for both club and country and he hopes to preserve it with a positive result against Uzbekistan next week.

Etheridge made seven starts for English League One side Walsall FC, who are currently top of the third-tier league in England. With the Saddlers, Etheridge helped his team achieved a near perfect start, winning all but one of their games in the league and in the Capital One Cup, where they are set to host reigning Premier League champions Chelsea later this month. “I’ve played extremely tough opposition. The confidence is high. I’ve learned a lot after playing so many games in such a short period of time,” the 25-year-old goalkeeper spoke about his stint so far.

The importance of Etheridge to his club, who lost recently without him in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, may have perhaps grown since he joined them but it has yet to reach the way the Azkals are valuing his company. One of the national team’s veterans, Etheridge is expected by many to marshall the goal against the Central Asians come September 8. Going into that vital encounter, the goalkeeper identified that the Azkals possess depth and strength that may well do the job against the Uzbeks. A testament to the team’s depth is the number of goalkeepers to challenge Etheridge in goal. In the lineup revamp, Tomas Trigo was replaced by two goalkeepers Roland Müller and Jun Badelic.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Etheridge brimming with confidence ahead of crucial Uzbekistan clash News    Clearly confident, Etheridge insists the Azkals are not resting on their laurels. He expressed happiness with the bright start they have made but thinks it will be useless if they don’t continue to improve. “There’s still a lot to come more from the team if I’m honest,” Etheridge said, adding, “Uzbekistan we expect will come out looking for a win as they need points in the board more than we do.” Home court advantage, nonetheless, will come handy for the Azkals who are aiming to please the Filipinos one more time.

They are set to play Maldives later, which also serves as a preparation for the massive game against Uzbekistan. Etheridge and the rest of the team have their eyes on the friendly match before locking their sights on the Central Asians. For now, that remains the focus for the Azkals, who have learned to live in the moment under the tutelage of Thomas Dooley.

“We’re going to take each day as it comes, each game as it comes. That’s how we got the success of the previous games,” Etheridge reminded everyone, including himself. -BGT

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