There is no final word yet about the availability of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge for the Philippine national men’s football team in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami made this assertion after reports swirled on Thursday that the British-born Etheridge, who is currently on loan to English fourth-division club Bristol Rovers from Premier League club Fulham, won’t be available for the regional competition this month.
Palami said Etheridge is still requesting for his release for the Suzuki Cup.
“Neil has asked me to disregard initial reports of his unavailability as he intends to continue requesting both Bristol and Fulham for a release to Suzuki Cup,” Palami told InterAKTV.
A report by Bristol Post last Wednesday quoted Rovers manager Mark McGhee confirm that Etheridge has chosen to stay with their club rather than joining the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup this November.
“Neil has decided he won’t be going to the tournament,” McGhee told the Bristol Post. “Neil is a man in form at the moment, though, so we’re pleased we’ll have him around.”
The Rovers have a game on November 24, the same date that the Azkals face host Thailand in their first match of the group stages of the Suzuki Cup. The squad also has games in December that could clash with the semifinal schedule of the competition should the Filipinos advance to the next round.
Last September, Etheridge was loaned to Bristol from his mother club Fulham initially on a one-month deal, which was later extended until December after helping the Rovers move up in the England’s Football League Two table.
Since his transfer, the Rovers have climbed from 23rd to 20th among the 24 teams in the league.
Despite being considered as the biggest football tournament in Southeast Asia, the Suzuki Cup does not fall on international match dates assigned by world governing body FIFA throughout the year. Because of this, clubs are not obliged to release players during the competition.
Then 20, Etheridge was instrumental in the Azkals’ historic semifinal run in the Suzuki Cup two years ago which catapulted the team’s popularity.
Etheridge last played for the Azkals in their 2-1 loss to Kuwait in a friendly match last October 16.