With uncertainty surrounding the availability of the Philippines’ first choice goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge, Thailand-based Michael Falkesgaard is aiming to prove he is the man to fill the gloves of the Cardiff City custodian when the AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off next month.

Given that only part of the group stage aligns with the FIFA international dates there’s a chance that Etheridge could be missing from the Azkals lineup for at least some of the tournament and Falkesgaard hopes he will have the opportunity to stake his claim after his move to Thai outfit Bangkok United brought him international recognition.

A month out from the tournament opener against Singapore we caught up with the 27-year-old Danish-born keeper to talk about life as an Akzal.

How important has it been for you to have a good first season in Thailand to be noticed and to get your opportunity for the Philippines?

It means everything to play well. Playing for the national team requires you to be involved and the better season a player has had, the better it will be for the upcoming tournaments.

Playing in Thailand has certainly been a big part of getting selected and I would say that if I was still playing in Europe, the chances of playing for the Philippines would not have been so high.

The way that it works with the Asian calendar is not always helpful for a European player to go to play for a national side in Asia because it’s a long distance and a lot of games are played that might have a clash of dates with club matches.

For me, it would have been very difficult to join up with the Azkals if it wasn’t for the move to Thailand.

How can your experience in the Thai League help you and your teammates when you play Thailand at home in Group B at the AFF Suzuki Cup?

I feel that I have a good knowledge of how football is played in Thailand. But as well as that, we have a new coach in Scott Cooper who has managed several different Thai clubs and knows a great deal about Thai football.

I think that his experience will also help us a lot but, of course, I have been playing in Thailand for one season now and there’s also a couple of other players from the Philippines here and this will definitely help a lot when we meet Thailand in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The Azkals have never won the AFF Suzuki Cup but as Thailand have been weakened by the loss of their four overseas-based players, do you see this is a big opportunity for the Philippines to win the tournament?

I know that on our team we have a lot of winners, which we need to make this happen.

Qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup shows that we have a lot of players who want to achieve something and I think that with Thailand being weaker, there’s a big chance for us to maybe go the whole way.

But, of course, we have to hit form at the tournament and a lot of players have to step up.

Who do you see as main contenders for the AFF Suzuki Cup?

It’s difficult to say. I think it depends a lot on form and, of course, the players that are available. As you see, Thailand will be missing some players but they will still have a strong team. I think they will be the biggest contender for the cup.

But we have also had a lot of problems facing the other teams in the past and I think Indonesia and Malaysia could both spring a surprise.

What do you consider as the strengths of the current Philippines team and how would you describe the playing style?

I think that the way we played before was with a lot of technical players and now we have a new coach, so I am not sure how he will want us to play.

But the players who play for the Azkals are generally very technically skilled players and we want the ball and to attack. So, for me, we will have an Azkals team that will be more attacking and in possession than the opponents.

With a new head coach in place, do you see this weekend’s international match against Oman as an opportunity to show your wares, even with Neil Etheridge named in that squad too?

Yes, of course. If I have the chance to play, I have to show that I’m ready to be in the first eleven. If I get a chance, I hope to grab it and show the coach and the rest of the team that I am ready for the upcoming challenges.

Football is still fighting to gain more popularity in the Philippines. Do you think that success in the AFF Suzuki Cup can really trigger a football boom?

I think that if we can get a good result in the AFF Suzuki Cup, it will be a big boost for the whole country ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in January, where there will be a lot of Filipino fans cheering for the team.

In the qualification stages for the AFC Asian Cup, I saw a lot of passionate fans getting behind the team. I know that football is still not that big in the Philippines but it has come a long way in the last seven or eight years.

It is difficult to compare football with, for example, basketball in the Philippines but the popularity is rising and if the team performs well in upcoming tournaments, we will see a lot more interest.

If you perform well at the AFF Suzuki Cup, do you think you will have a chance to challenge Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge for the goalkeeper’s jersey at the AFC Asian Cup in January?

I always try to be the best and to be the number one but Neil has played for the national team for many years now and, of course, he is one of the best players in the squad.

If I play well, anything can happen. It’s up to me to show that I’m ready when given the chance. I’m willing to fight to show that I can be number one.