Etheridge holds ground as Azkals tie up China

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    WITH goalie Neil Etheridge playing one of his best games, the Philippines held China to a goalless draw last Tuesday night in their AFC World Cup and Asian Cup second round qualifiers at the Panaad pitch in Bacolod City.

    The Fil-British goalie played solidly between the posts as the Azkals escaped with a precious point against the visitors, who had between them twice in past matches this year, in Group A in front of a partisan crowd of 3,000.

    Hours later, Syria swamped Guam 4-0 at the Maktoum bin Rashin Al Maktoum in Dubai for its third straight win and seized the lead in the group where the top two squads will advance to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.

    The spotless Syrians lead the way with nine points, the Chinese slipped to second with seven while the Filipino footballers retained third place with four points.  The Maldives is fourth with three points while winless Guam is at the bottom.

    Ranked No. 68 in the latest world ratings against the Azkals’ 127, the Chinese, led by Lu Wei, tried to impose their will from the start but were repeatedly thwarted by Etheridge, who had missed national team duty due to his job as goalie for English Second Division Cardiff City.

    He tipped over Hao Junmin’s strike in the 91st minute, preserving the draw for the hosts, much to the relief of national coach Goran Milojevic of Serbia.

    The Azkals next play the Maldives on Nov. 14 in the Maldivian capital of Male.

    Meanwhile, the national men’s and women’s squads for the 30th Southeast Asian Games found themselves in lighter groups after the official draw last Tuesday at the Sofitel Hotel.