Etheridge earn rivals, fans respect
TASHKENT—For a change, it wasn’t one of the stars of the Uzbekistan side that took the limelight after the home side’s 1-0 win over the Philippines last Thursday night in their World Cup Qualifying clash at Bunyodkor Stadium.
With his superb shot-stopping that kept the 10-man Azkals in the game, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge left an indelible mark in the match so much so that it made him an instant hit in this lush Central Asian capital city.
Seeing several members of the PH delegation touring one of Tashkent’s oldest markets, vendors immediately looked for the 26-year-old Etheridge, who was resting at the hotel.
“Where’s your goalkeeper? We want a photo with him,” one of the vendors asked the team’s Uzbek liaison officer.
With football the No. 1 sport here, the Uzbek national team is revered here much like Gilas Pilipinas back home.
Journalists even took to task Uzbek coach Samvel Babayan, questioning why his team didn’t score more goals against the Azkals, who were already one man down after nine minutes following the sending off of OJ Porteria.
“Their goalkeeper was a hero,” said Babayan. “With that kind of performance he can play in the Premier League.”
Etheridge took plenty of flak for conceding a goal within 48 seconds that all but dimmed the Azkals’ chance of pulling off an upset against the Uzbeks last September. But he redeemed himself here.
“Neil was just outstanding,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley.
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