Cardiff City ‘keeper Neil Etheridge has flown out for international duty with the Philippines, as they look to secure an historic AFC Asian Cup qualification.
The Southeast Asian side have the opportunity to qualify for the competition for the first time in their history. Indeed, just one match stands in their way. Rizal Memorial Stadium will play host to Tajikistan on Tuesday, 27th March - and a Filipino win or draw would see them progress.
The Philippines had the upper hand when the two countries met earlier in the qualification process, securing the points away from home with a dramatic 4-3 victory at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. They are in an excellent vein of form too, boasting an impressive five-game unbeaten run in the qualifiers.
City’s no. 25 was rested for the Azkals' 3-2 friendly victory over Fiji on Thursday, as he travelled to Manila in time for Tuesday’s big game.
The 56-cap stopper has kept 16 clean sheets from 36 Sky Bet Championship games, with the Bluebirds conceding fewer goals than any other side in the division this season. Neil will look to continue that form in the national shirt on Tueday, with at least a point the target to make Filipino footballing history.
"A huge chance to make history..."
Earlier this season, Neil spoke to iFollow Cardiff City about playing for his country, explaining the path that he took into international football at an early stage in his career.
"I played for England U16s," he said. "But made the transition to play for the Philippines when I was 18. I've been able to travel and see some fantastic places and different cultures. I've enjoyed every minute of it, haven't looked back and I've never regretted it.”
Having become a talisman between the sticks on the international stage, Neil went on to tell us just how much he enjoys playing for the Azkals, adding: "It’s fantastic. I started in 2008 there, and the national team took centre stage in the Philippines for a spell in 2010 - it was great to be a part of that.
"At the moment, we're top of our group in the Asian Cup qualifiers and if we qualify it will be the first time ever. There have been great opportunities for me on the international stage and it’s a huge chance to make history.”
With qualification for the Asian Cup now within reach, Neil finally explained a little about the competition that he hopes to play a part in next year.
“The Asian Cup is in January 2019 in the United Arab Emirates," he said. "It’s always a tough one and, like the Africa Cup of Nations, it’s played within the season. We’ve been taking it step by step and now can see where it goes.”