MANILA, Philippines – Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge will sit out the Philippines' first two World Cup qualifying matches against Syria and Guam after sustaining a hamstring injury.
The Cardiff City goalie limped out of his team's 2-3 loss to Wigan Athletic last Saturday, August 3, and will be sidelined 6 to 8 weeks, revealed Azkals head coach Scott Cooper on Tuesday, August 6, in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association forum at Amelie Hotel.
"He’ll probably be ready for the home game against China on [October 15]," said Cooper.
But even without the country's leading goalkeeper – who was the first Southeast Asian to see action in the English Premier League – the Irish mentor is confident with the Azkals' depth in talent to keep the last line of defense.
The Fil-Danish keeper helped the Azkals hold South Korea to a scoreless first half and defied expectations against the continental powerhouse with a 0-1 result in the 2019 Asian Cup opener. (HIGHLIGHTS: Philippines vs South Korea – Asian Cup 2019)
Homegrown talent Patrick Deyto, who transferred to Suphanburi FC from Ceres-Negros FC, has also impressed Cooper with his performances in the Thai League 1.
"He’s working out well, he’s proving to be a revelation. That’s great," said Cooper about Deyto.
Aside from Etheridge, Azkals mainstays Phil and James Younghusband – who have not seen action since the Asian Cup – are doubtful to get selected for the 23-man lineup early on in the qualifiers.
"Both of them are looking to get back into the game. But we have to be realistic by current form and fitness," Cooper said of the Younghusbands, who are currently without a professional club since Davao Aguilas FC folded.
As the brothers remain in the national pool, Cooper believes that they can still represent the country in the World Cup Qualifiers, as a new lineup would be submitted before each game.
"We would be foolish not to add players of that experience to the list," added Cooper.
The Philippines' World Cup qualifying games will begin on September 5 against Syria at the Pana-ad Park and Stadium in Bacolod followed by its first away game against Guam on September 10.
The top two teams of each group will gain an automatic berth to the 2019 Asian Cup. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.