Clean Sheet King Neil Ready To Shine For Philippines

Cardiff City have 10 players away on international duty this week. Here Terry Phillips looks at those who are away with their national teams.

Neil Etheridge, Cardiff City’s in-form goalkeeper who has kept 16 Championship clean sheets this season, is intent on making his mark for club and country.

London-born Etheridge has been a first choice for Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds, while he has played a key role for the Philippines in their quest to qualify for the Asia Cup finals.

He has been a central figure for Cardiff in their battle for promotion to the Premier League – and they are second in the Championship table with nine fixtures left to play.

A Neil Etheridge selfie. The Bluebirds goalkeeper tweeted this pic when the Philippines were in North Korea for an international.

The former Fulham, Charlton and Walsall goalkeeper is currently in Manila for the international break. He was rested from the Philippines’ 3-2 friendly win against Fiji at the Rizal Stadium last night (Thursday), but could well start against Tajikistan in an Asia Cup qualifier next Tuesday.

Philippines are unbeaten in six matches and go into the clash with Tajikistan, a landlocked country bordered by Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, knowing a draw or a win to qualify for the finals in the United Arab Emirates early next year.

That would be a major moment for Philippines, who have never progressed to the finals before.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock has made Neil Etheridge his number one. Pic: Getty Images.

Travelling to international home fixtures means a 14-hour flight for Etheridge and he’s made those trips for almost a decade, but he says: “Fortunately, I manage to sleep most of the way.”

He made one appearance for England at under-16 level before accepting an invitation to for the ‘Azkals’, the nickname of the Philippines national team which translates as ‘Stray Dogs’.

The man from Enfield has earned 58 caps and says: “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

He qualifies through his mother, Merlinda, who was born in the Tarlac province in the north of the south-east Asia island country.

The Philippines approached Etheridge when he was emerging via the youth system at Fulham and, initially, he said no, preferring to make himself available for England.

Two close pals, brothers James and Phil Younghusband, played in the same team as Etheridge while the three teenagers were at Chelsea together and they opted to make themselves available for the Philippines.

James Younghusband. The former Chelsea junior helped persuade Neil Etheridge to play for the Philiippines. Pic: Getty Images.

That swung it for Etheridge, who plays at the highest level of club football of those in the Philippines squad.

He has a twitter following of 730,000, three times as many as Cardiff City’s official account.

“If we succeed in qualifying for the Asian Cup that will be something I would be extremely proud of,” said Etheridge. “There’s many different times I’ve been able to say I’ve helped make history.

“I was 20 playing in front of 100,000 people in the AFF Cup semi-finals against Indonesia, which is a lot to take in, but helps make sure there’s not a lot to be fazed by even though I’ve stepped up to the Championship from League One this season.”

Warnock signed Etheridge from League One Walsall and the tall shot-stopper has made a big contribution to the Bluebirds’ cause. He has worked hard on kicking, which was a weakness, and made solid progress working with club goalkeeping coach Andy Dibble.

“We are not thinking of the Premier League just yet,” Etheridge told the Associated Press.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, the Championship is a very strong level of football. I would argue that it is right up there with some of the best leagues and is hard to get out of.”

Etheridge is big news in the Philippines. He has a presence playing for the national team and commands respect.

Next Wednesday morning, after the Asian Cup qualifier against Tajikistan, Etheridge will set out on that 14-hour flight from Manila to the UK.

He will then have one day to relax before the Bluebirds take on Burton Albion in a crucial Championship clash at Cardiff City Stadium on the Friday (March 30).

Cardiff City have a number of players away on international duty . . . . . . 

Callum Paterson.

Callum Paterson (Scotland)

He has scored eight goals for Cardiff this season and is in the first Scotland squad selected by newly re-appointed manager Alex McLeish.

Paterson, 23, has joined up with the Scots for two international friendlies, against Costa Rica at Hampden Park this evening before playing Hungary in Budapest three days later.

Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)

‘Gunnar’ is set to return to action with his beloved Iceland.

He has been a notable injury absentee for the Bluebirds, but is set to return to club action immediately after the international break.

Iceland travel to the USA to face Mexico in California tomorrow (Saturday) before playing Peru in New Jersey next Monday.

Marko Grujik celebrates against Barnsley. Pic: Cardiff City FC.

Marko Grujic (Serbia)

He’s been in sizzling form for the Bluebirds and Serbia have selected the midfield player in their senior squad.

Grujic, who has joined Cardiff on loan from Liverpool, is in the Serbian squad for friendlies against Morocco, at Stadio Olympico Grande, Torino this evening and Nigeria at the Hive Stadium, Barnet next Tuesday.

Bruno Manga (Gabon)

The cultured centre-back is in Gabon’s squad at the King’s Cup.

Gabon fought out a goalless draw against Thailand in their semi-final at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok before losing the penalty shootout 4-2. Almost 26,000 spectators were at the stadium.

Manga and his national team now face United Arab Emirates in the third/fourth place play-off on Sunday, while Thailand take on Slovakia in the final.

BLuebirds’ ace Armond Traore. Pic: Cardiff City.

Armand Traore (Senegal)

He is in Morocco for an international friendly against Uzbekistan this evening, while Senegal then take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in France next Tuesday. That match is at Le Havre’s Stade Océane.

Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland)

Manager Michael O’Neill and his Northern Ireland team have one match during this international break.

They take on Korea Republic at Windsor Park on Saturday. Ward is close to fitness following injury and is hoping to be involved.

Wales u-23

Rhys Abbruzzese, Cameron Coxe and Mark Harris are all in the Wales under-23 squad for their Uefa Championship qualifier against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica being played this afternoon.

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