BANGKOK—Philippines goalkeeper Ed Sacapano understood the apprehensions when he was thrust into the limelight following the absence of Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller in the AFF Suzuki Cup here.
He knew he had a huge void to fill with Etheridge at his finest in the previous tournament when the Azkals reached the semifinals for the first time two years ago.
But what was deemed as a weakness at the start of the tournament has now emerged as one of the strengths of the Azkals’ campaign here with Sacapano rising to the occasion.
The Army goalkeeper has been solid, pulling off a reflex save on a strike by Vietnamese Le Tan Tai in the dying minutes that preserved the Azkals’ 1-0 win over Vietnam and kept the Philippines in contention for a semifinal spot.
“There was a lot of pressure on my part, but I’ve been doubling my efforts in this tournament,” said Sacapano, who was set to earn his fourth straight start for the national side last night against Myanamar in the Azkals’ final group match.
The 5-foot-9, 32-year-old Army standout is actually among the shortest goalkeepers in the eight-team tournament. But he has been among the most composed and his distribution of the ball to strikers like Phil Younghusband is also noteworthy. Sacapano’s good form has not escaped the critical eyes of Swiss goalkeeper coach Pascal Zuberbuhler.
“Eduard has played a good tournament so far,” said Zuberbuhler. “He makes good decisions and he goes full power when he makes these decisions. He was very cool and relaxed and he has good distribution.”
The 41-year-old Swiss certainly knows what he’s talking about. He’s also worked with Etheridge at Fulham the past three years, which was one of the main reasons why Azkals manager Dan Palami was able to tap him to help out.
“I come from Europe and the keepers are always taller so this is something new for me,” the 6-foot-5 Zuberbuhler said.