FOLLOWING the surprise pullout of Brunei from the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, Philippine Azkals coach Michael Weiss is now bracing himself for the possibly of missing the services of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge in the team’s game against Cambodia on Sunday.
Etheridge has been slapped a one-game suspension after acquiring a red card in the Azkals’ AFC match against Turkmenistan last year owing to excessive profanities against game officials.
He was supposed to serve the suspension in the game against Brunei until the small Southeast Asian state decided to skip the tournament at the last minute.
Although the Azkals automatically earn three points following Brunei’s no-show, Weiss made it clear that Etheridge’s suspension will only take effect during actual games, therefore making him ineligible to suit up in the match against Cambodia.
“He’s suspended, so everybody should know that,” Weiss stressed.
Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano `Nonong’ Araneta, however, has a different take on the matter, pointing out that a closer review of the AFC rules on its website clearly shows the host country is a winner by default over Brunei.
“Parang considered na default `yun di ba?” said the football official. “Kung dine-declare ng AFC na default yung Brunei game, then dun effective `yung suspension niya (Etheridge). It’s a won game, eh.”
Araneta said he is still awaiting official communication from the AFC regarding the issue.
But both Weiss and the PFF president are one in saying the Philippines stands a good chance of notching a seat in next year’s AFC Challenge Cup proper in Maldives.
“Lahat naman ng game mahirap, pero I believe we have a stronger team now. We just have to take it one game at a time,” said the amiable Araneta.
For his part, Weiss believes the team he will be fielding in the qualifiers is better than the unit that suited up in last year’s Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in Bangkok.
“This is a good team, though we only prepared for three full days together. Not much problem with the chemistry because most of the players know each other,” said Weiss.
The flamboyant coach also hopes the hosting of the tournament will be the “start of more good things for Philippine football.”
Asked if he has worries for the tournament, Weiss replied, “No, I never have worries. I am a happy man being a part of this development in Philippine football.”
“I am always positive. I try to make the best out of it no matter how hard the situation … That is also one of the reasons for our successful stint in the last two years.”
Following their walkover win against Brunei, the Filipino booters only need to hurdle Cambodia (on Sunday) and last year’s tormentor Turkmenistan (on Tuesday) to notch a seat in the more 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.