After mediocracy, Etheridge glad to see Azkals' winning mentality back

By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

September 13, 2023, 5:48 pm

<p>Azkals’ goalkeeper Neil Etheridge <em>(Photo from PFF Facebook page)</em></p>

Azkals’ goalkeeper Neil Etheridge (Photo from PFF Facebook page)

MANILA – Neil Etheridge has seen enough of the Philippine Azkals' recent struggles.

The Birmingham City keeper, the only player still active from the national team's "Miracle in Hanoi" roster that brought them to prominence, believes it's time for the Azkals to bring back the fight, and it starts with him taking charge as the new team captain.

"I just wanted to change something, and I felt over the last five years, probably we didn't have a winning mentality. I feel like we accepted mediocracy," Etheridge said on Tuesday night. "Coach [Michael Weiss] has allowed me to bring this mentality to this team where it's 'Win at all cost.'"

He then recalled his younger days with the Azkals, in which while the Miracle in Hanoi squad might not be as talented as the current team, their will to win is what could make them the better squad.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of a team many many years ago which I don't like to keep going back to which weren't as technically good as this team, but they had the mentality that we had to win," Etheridge further said.

He might have finally seen that winning attitude that he wanted for the Azkals as they fought back from a shock Afghanistan goal to win, 2-1, in front of 2,157 and at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday night.

Sebastian Rasmussen charged through the Afghanistan backline and struck a 74th-minute strike from just outside the box that canceled Omif Popalzay's 64th-minute opener.

Rontini then won it for the Azkals with an 81st-minute goal off a corner kick, and to celebrate his first international goal, he did the Cristiano Ronaldo x-slash goal celebration.

"I'm so happy that Rontini gets his goal," Etheridge added.

As the referee blew the final whistle, tears of joy flowed through Etheridge.

"I think why I got so emotional after the game [yesterday] was because it's probably the first time in a long time I've seen that fight from an Azkals team," he said. "We could have rolled over after conceding, 1-0, but we didn't."

The Azkals' home win made Etheridge forget the "robbery" they suffered in Kaohsiung where Chinese Taipei scored a last-minute goal to force a 1-1 draw against an Azkals squad that was dominant for almost the entire match on Friday night. (PNA)