‘Closed my eyes and hoped for the best’: Deng reflects on stunning J League goal
Urawa Red Diamonds defender Thomas Deng has revealed how surprised he was to score in such spectacular fashion, and who sent him messages following the equaliser that went viral.
It was the Australia U-23 captain’s first J League goal (and he says the "best of his career") since completing his dream move overseas in January, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world.
The centre back, who admitted to surprising himself, rocketed home Yuki Muto’s cleared free kick from all of 25 yards out to hand Urawa an equaliser against Vissel Kobe in their 2-1 loss on Sunday.
"Lately, I've been staying at the back for corners and I'm normally in the middle so I never thought the ball would come out to me," Deng told Socceroos.com.au.
"But when it did, I was trying to read the bounce, I twisted my body, tried to get the right timing and I kind of just hit it and didn't think too much.
"I just thought to hit it as clean as I can and hope for the best.
"It was surprising because in training you never get to shoot so when I did get the opportunity, I think that kind of helped me because I didn't really care if I hit it into row Z."
Following the strike, the vision of Deng’s goal went viral, even reaching as far as Brazil.
And the 23-year-old also received plenty of messages of support from ex-teammates, friends and family back in Australia after the match.
"I had millions of messages, my phone has been blowing up," he said.
"Everyone is really happy for me. They are happy that I'm settling in and I'm doing well over here.
"Arnie sent me a message saying, 'what a hit', and Guido the Melbourne Victory kit man messaged me and said, ‘nice goal, would have been good if you meant it’.
"Then I replied, ‘yeah, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best’.
"It's really good to get those messages and it shows that I have a lot of support back home as well."
The goal was further reward for the hard times that Deng had to endure when he moved to Japan.
His Red Diamonds debut was seven months in waiting as the J League season was put on hold after the first round in February due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since the resumption of the league, Deng has started eight matches in the heart of the Urawa defence and he finally feels like he is finding his feet in Japan.
"After coming here in February, the last few months have been quite tough with a pandemic but now I feel a lot more comfortable and I'm enjoying my football over here," Deng revealed.
"Every week is a challenge for me, one week I'm playing against a top Japanese striker and then another week I'm playing against a top Brazilian striker.
"Each week is a massive challenge, I always have to be ready and up to the task.
"The club and the coach are showing a lot of belief in me and really giving me a lot of minutes to improve.
"Each week I am getting better and better so hopefully, we can keep going like this and compete for the title."
Check out some of the reaction on social media to Deng's goal!