On December 28, the Philippine Azkals signified their battle readiness for their first ever appearance in the Asian Cup by naming the 23-man squad who will be bannering their national colors in UAE.
Coming off another semifinals campaign at the recently concluded 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, the Filipino team will carry with them 15 holdovers from that tournament’s lineup: Phil Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt, Iain Ramsay, Curt Dizon, Jovin Bedic, James Younghusband, John-Patrick Strauss, Stephan Schrock, Manuel Ott, Manny Ott, Kevin Ingreso, Luke Woodland, Daisuke Sato, Stephan Palla, Adam Tull, Alvaro Silva, Paul Mulders, Carli De Murga and Micheal Falkesgaard.
To round out the team, the Azkals will bring in both national team new comers and returnees: Kevin Ray Hansen, Nathaniel Ace Villanueva, Miguel Tanton and Javier Patiño.
However, to the surprise of many, one of the biggest names, not only in the Philippine football scene, but also in the Southeast Asian region as a whole, was left off the roster from the pool of players: Cardiff City and the Philippines’ number one goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
Due to his tour of duty and commitments to his mother club in England’s top flight football league, and its need to avoid relegation, Etheridge was originally cleared to play one game in the Asian Cup against South Korea, but rather insisted to relinquish the slot for a player who would be able to finish the quadrennial football showpiece.
According to Etheridge, it would have been “unfair.”
The Sven-Göran Eriksson-led team has been slated to open the tournament in Group C along with China, South Korea and Kryrgyztan.
Vietnam and Thailand, the other ASEAN nations that qualified, will see action in the tournament with the 2018 Suzuki Cup champions grouped with Iran, Iraq and Yemen, while Thailand will fight for a spot in the knockout rounds against Bahrain, India and the hosts, UAE.