The Philippine Azkals confirm their final list of players who will make up the squad for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2019 tournament.
Just this evening [December 27, 2018], the Philippine Football Federation released the final list of players who are called up for Asia’s continental football showdown.
The Philippine Football Federation (@philfootball) December 27, 2018
Upon initial glance, it wouldn’t be hard to notice that Neil Etheridge is not part of the team.
But, with that noticeable absence, there are also some surprise inclusions that can be considered as overdue due to the glowing reputations they have built throughout their playing careers.
Let’s briefly look into the squad:
1. Neil Etheridge’s absence a blow, but probably the better option
It is to note that initially, Cardiff City FC’s main keeper and the player with the highest profile in the Azkals, being their sole representative in the prestigious English Premier League, would only to suit up for the national team in the opening fixture against South Korea on January 7, 2019.
But, in the end (and due to several possible reasons that can only be speculated), it might have been considered the best and most rational approach for both parties that Neil Etheridge should forego the tournament and concentrate on his club duties.
The situation in Cardiff City FC should also be taken into consideration in the bigger picture as the club is currently in the thick of things when it comes to a relegation battle, and Neil Etheridge is definitely a crucial piece in the club’s plans to evade the possible drop.
Yes, it might be a major letdown that the biggest name in the Philippines’ list of footballing talents is about to miss out on the biggest occasion that the national team is about to participate in. But the proposition and dilemma surely are things that Neil is most probably also unhappy to face given the magnitude of the tournament, especially for the country, as shown in his emotional reaction when he was able to help The Azkals seal qualification in the Asian Cup last March 27, 2018.
Filipino football fans also were mixed in their reactions with the decision of the team, showing that the situation really was a tough call no matter how one looks at it.
Much as I badly want to see Neil Etheridge at the Asian Cup, I guess it's just the right call. If he's only availab… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Daryl Gaviola #SongOfTheYearTWICE (@DarylG7) December 27, 2018
Robert 'Bob' Reyes 🇵🇭 (@bobreyes) December 27, 2018
Wala sa lineup ng Azkals sa Asian cup si Neil Etheridge 😮😮😮—
Jason Patrick Gomez (@GomezJason27) December 27, 2018
2. Surprise, yet promising, inclusions
This squad have a couple of players who can be considered as surprising additions given the timing of their inclusions and the magnitude of the tournament at hand, but very promising ones given their stellar track records in their respective careers in Philippine football – midfielder Miguel Tanton and goalkeeper Nathanael Ace Villanueva.
Miguel Tanton has been a long-time servant for Kaya FC even during the United Football League (UFL) years, before his recently concluded transfer to Ceres Negros for the coming season.
Considered as a creative, yet battling midfielder, Miguel’s ability to dictate the middle of the park with a good balance of brilliance and tenacity can be a plus to any team that he is bound to play for.
His only call-up with the Azkals last March 29, 2016 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier match was etched in memory when he provided the back-heel assist for Manny Ott’s 84th minute equaliser against North Korea that ended in a monumental 3-2 win.
Such have shown his quality as a midfielder and what he can offer to the team if head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson gives him the opportunity to step onto the pitch.
Meanwhile, Ace Villanueva, who plays as Kaya FC Iloilo’s main goalkeeper the past season, has been one of the best homegrown players in this country. A product of University of the Philippines, Ace worked his way up the ranks and has had stints with several local clubs such as Pachanga Diliman, and Loyola FC (which eventually became FC Meralco Manila) where he was able to stamp himself as a quality stopper.
And now along with forward, Jovin Bedic, Ace serves as Kaya’s second representative for the Azkals in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign as a one of the goalkeeping options.
3. Who is Kevin Ray Hansen?
Kevin Ray Mendoza Hansen, for the first time, will be part of the Azkals in this AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign which is a big challenge given the magnitude of the tournament – the biggest in the national team’s participation in international football competitions.
24-year-old Kevin Ray Mendoza plays as a goalkeeper for Danish Superliga club AC Horsens. In the current Superliga season, where his club is currently eighth in the standings out of 14 teams, Kevin Ray featured in a total of five matches. Out of these fixtures, he faced a total of 32 shots with 14 conceded goals and 18 attempts saved for a success rate of 56.3%
His experience in the Danish top flight will come in handy as a possible goalkeeping option along with Ace Villanueva of Kaya FC Iloilo, behind the most probable first choice keeper, Michael Falkesgaard of Bangkok United.
Photo credit: Philippine Football Federation