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Returning Neil banners Azkals

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Neil Etheridge is thrilled to make a comeback when he leads the Philippine Azkals against Malaysia in the FAS Tri Nation Series at the National Stadium in Singapore on Wednesday.

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. with the Azkals looking to make an impact in the pocket tourney that serves as a warmup for the final round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Mongolia in June.

The 32-year-old goalkeeper expressed excitement in donning the national colors again, his first international tour of duty since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020.

“We’ve got a great squad on paper but I think at the end of the day you have to win games on the field,” Etheridge, who last played for the Nationals during the first round of the Asian Cup qualifiers in 2019, said.

“Obviously, with the game tomorrow, it’s not easy. When it comes to tomorrow night, there are no excuses, we have to perform to the best of our abilities.”

The only active player left from the Azkals squad that staged the historic “Miracle of Hanoi” in 2010, Etheridge is expected to provide elite veteran experience alongside skipper Stephan Schrock and veterans Amani Aguinaldo, Carli de Murga and Patrick Reichelt.

Also raring to see action on the pitch are young guns Quincy Kameraad, Kevin Ray Mendoza, Justin Baas, Oliver Bias and naturalized striker Bienvenido Maranon.

Foreign-based booters Jesse Curran, Diego Bardanca and Enrique Linares are set to play their first game for the Philippines.

The much-awaited debut of Bundesliga player Gerrit Holtmann, meanwhile, has been delayed after he contracted Covid-19 early this week.

“International football is really a hard task, it’s not as easy as just getting players in and jelling them straight away,” Etheridge said.

“I guess a part of my job here now, apart from playing, is to lead these players to some sort of success. To lead them on the field and off the field.”

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