Strong preparation excites Deng ahead of AFC U23 Championship

Embarking on his third AFC U23 Championship, Thomas Deng says Australia are the most prepared they have ever been ahead of their Thailand 2020 opener.

The Melbourne Victory defender is one of the most experienced players at this year’s tournament and set to play a crucial role for Graham Arnold’s side as they seek to be crowned Asia’s best nation at Under-23 level.

The tournament also doubles as the qualifying path to this year’s Olympic Games – with the top three teams joining hosts Japan at Tokyo 2020.

Australia U-23 kick-off their AFC U23 Championship campaign in the tournament's opener on January 8 against Iraq, with Bahrain and hosts Thailand also in their group.

Deng and his teammates come into the tournament on the back of strong form after taking out the invitational ‘Dazu Cup’ in China in November – downing Lithuania U-23 in the final after earlier notching impressive wins over China PR and DPR Korea.

For the 22-year-old Deng, who also made his full Socceroos debut in 2018, this year’s AFC U23 Championship may be his last chance to qualify for an Olympic Games after being part of squad’s that tasted group stage exits in 2016 and 2018

JOURNEY SO FAR: Australia’s U-23s eyeing AFC glory and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
ANNOUNCEMENT: Graham Arnold reveals U-23 squad bound for Bangkok

Deng told that he feels the team is better prepared for this year’s campaign due to the detailed preparation and oversight of Socceroos coach Arnold.

“In these last few months since [Graham] Arnold took over it's been very good," Deng explained.

"He's been wanting to get us together more and train together more. We've had camps up in Sydney and Canberra, as well as playing more tournaments such as the recent one in China - all good preparation for us.

"The thing to underline is that we've always had talented players and a lot of depth at this level, it's just that we've never been around each other enough in the build up to the major AFC tournaments."

Thomas Deng
Australia's U23 win the Dazu Cup in China

Amongst those talented players in the Australia U-23 squad for the tournament, Deng cited 19-year-old attacker Al Hassan Toure as a player he expects to make an impact.

"He's being doing well at Adelaide United and in our last camp he came in and then shone at the tournament in China, scoring a few individual goals.

"He really stood out for me. He's quite young which means he's still raw and you don't know what to expect from him, so he's one to keep an eye out on.

"There's others as well, a young boy called Zach [Duncan], he was at Brisbane previously, and he's now at AGF in Denmark; Keanu Bacchus, and also Reno Piscopo."

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW: Ultimate guide to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship

For Deng, representing his country at Tokyo 2020 would add further trajectory to a career that already includes a Hyundai A-League Championship title and an FFA Cup winners medal with the Victory.

He explained that he feels the team has generated strong momentum through the 2019 calendar year, that included their qualifying path to the AFC U-23 Championships.

"I do think we have a good chance to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” he said.

“In the last few tournaments we’ve had some good performances, and particularly during qualification for Thailand 2020 in Cambodia. We got some good results there against some top teams such as Korea Republic.”

He said he will carry those experiences – and the disappointments of previous tournament exits – onto the pitch this time around.

"The 2016 was my first time with the Olyroos," he recalls. "That gave me an insight into everything and a headstart, so now that I’m in this position it makes leading the team a bit easier.

"I know what Asian football is all about and I know what to expect from this kind of tournament."

Australia U-23 will play a behind closed-doors friendly against Korea Republic U-23 in their final hit-out before their opening group stage match against Iraq.

Australia U-23 Men's National Team  Upcoming Fixtures

Australia U-23 v Korea Republic U-23 – International Friendly
Date: Friday, 3 January 2020
Venue: Stadium Bola Sepak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kick-off: 5.00pm (local); 8.00pm (AEDT)
Note: Match to be played behind closed doors

Iraq U-23 v Australia U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Wednesday, 8 January 2020
Venue: Thammasat Stadium, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Kick-off: 5.15pm (local); 9.15pm (AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed

Australia U-23 v Thailand U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Saturday, 11 January 2020
Venue: Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand
Kick-off: 8.15pm (local); 12.15am + 1 (Sunday, 12 January AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed

Australia U-23 v Bahrain U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Venue: Thammasat Stadium, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Kick-off: 8.15pm (local); 12.15am +1 (Wednesday, 15 January AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed

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