Deng fit to lead Olyroos’ Tokyo bid
MELBOURNE Victory defender Tommy Deng has been declared fit to lead the Olyroos into battle as they aim to be among Asia's three qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.
Led by Socceroos boss Graham Arnold, the under-23s - the men's Olympic tournament is age limited, so as not to compete with the World Cup - are aiming to break a 12-year qualification hoodoo.
The Olyroos face a tough task in the Thailand qualifying tournament, missing Daniel Arzani (Celtic), Harry Souttar (Fleetwood Town) and their suspended quartet - Adelaide United star Riley McGree, Melbourne City duo Nathaniel Atkinson and Lachlan Wales plus Brandon Wilson, who on Monday joined Wellington Phoenix from Perth Glory.
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One of just two Socceroos-capped players in the squad along with Denmark-based Alex Gersbach, Deng will play a leading role.
So, too, will Melbourne City midfielder Connor Metcalfe, Germany-based Jacob Italiano and Adelaide United striker Al Hassan Toure, who has pledged his international future to Australia over Liberia.
On Friday, Deng made his first appearance, a 45-minute outing in a drawn friendly with South Korea, since missing a month with a groin tear.
"The last team that qualified was in 2008. For us to have that honour to go to Olympics would be amazing," Deng said.
"It will change a lot of our careers and would be a dream come true.
"This is the last chance that I have, and a lot of boys have, to qualify for Olympics. We have the opportunity, we have to take it with both hands.
"Everyone in camp is in good condition and with the help of (conditioning chief) Andrew Clarke, we're looking sharp and strong for the first game against Iraq.
"I'm feeling good coming back from injury.
"I missed four weeks; you don't realise how much fitness you lose. Last week helped me get into the groove to get that sharpness and confidence back."
Melbourne City midfielder Denis Genreau (shoulder) is the only player set to be unavailable for the Iraq game. The other teams in the group are Thailand and Bahrain.
Toure, who only debuted for the Olyroos in November, months after making his senior debut, scored in the South Korea draw.
Deng revealed that the players had pledged to donate $525 per goal to the Australian bushfire appeal, admitting that it had dominated mealtime discussion in their Asian camp, with players taken aback at the graphic videos on social media.
OPERATION TOKYO 2020
Olyroos' Olympic qualifiers - Thailand, January 8-26
Jan 8 - Iraq, 9.15pm
Jan 12 - Thailand, 12.15am
Jan 15 - Bahrain, 12.15am
- Top 2 teams from each group advance to knockout phase
- Top 3 of 16 teams qualify for Tokyo 2020