LONG-TIME Philippine Azkals mainstay Neil Etheridge is sick and tired of seeing his team losing.
Having been through all the highs and lows with the national team for 15 years, all Etheridge wanted is to see the new generation of Azkals fight up to the very end.
“I felt like over the last five years probably, we didn’t have a winning mentality. I felt like we accepted mediocrity,” said the Birmingham City FC goalkeeper after the Philippines pulled off a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Afghanistan Tuesday night.
“I wanted to bring something and my coach allowed me to bring the mentality to this team where it’s win at all costs,” he added.
“I think I got so emotional after the game today was because it would be the first time in a long time that I have seen them fight from the Azkals team. We could have blown over after conceding 1-nil.”
“I just want togetherness. I want to built a winning mentality and for me this is the start of something.”
The 2,157 fans who trooped to the Rizal Memorial Stadium were still hopeful despite the Philippines down by a goal.
Substitute Sebastian Rasmussen outruns the entire Afghan backline from the half to answer Omid Popalzay’s 64th minute opener.
Christian Rontini then hit the bottom corner in the 81st minute to give the Azkals a 2-1 advantage which they protected up to the very end.
“That was a real dogfight of a game. We continued to fight, that’s what we did today,” Etheridge said.
Rontini, who plays in Indonesia Liga 1’s Persita Tangerang, celebrated his first international goal in style.
“I just go under the crowd and do the celebration of [Cristiano] Ronaldo because he’s also my idol,” Rontini said.
“Since joining the team, I felt we had a very good connection,“ he added.
The victory followed up the Philippines’ 1-1 draw against Chinese Taipei last Friday, where the Azkals conceded a stoppage-time goal.
The friendly matches served as the Philippines preparation for the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup preliminary joint qualifiers scheduled in November where the Azkals will face Iraq, Vietnam, and the winner of the Indonesia-Brunei qualification match.
The Philippines had a good Tuesday night in football as the U23 squad registered its maiden Group H win in the AFC U23 Qualifiers with a 1-0 conquest of Bangladesh in Chonburi, Thailand.
Gavin Muens, who recently joined FC Schweinfurt 05 in Germany’s 4th division, scored the lone goal of the match via a 56th minute penalty to end the U23 team’s campaign on a high note.