by Thomas Deng, Olyroos Captain

As the dust settles on our Olympic experience, I can’t help but feel immense pride in what we achieved as a team.

For all of us, it was our first Olympics and one in which we played incredible opposition in the form of Argentina, Spain and Egypt. 

We will carry those moments with us for the rest of our lives.

The Olympics is a big tournament and a big stage. For Australia to qualify and to return after 13 years is a massive achievement, so for a lot of these boys and for me, it was an honour and a proud moment to lead the team and to wear the green and gold.

It’s an experience that we’ll be able to talk about 30 years down the track and reminisce about the time we beat Argentina. We showed that we have talent and we’re able to compete on the world stage.  I’m sure it’s not the last time we will hear about many players in this team playing football at a high level.

I’m so happy for the boys to experience that but I’m also happy for fans of Australian football. 

For people back home who have had a rough time due to COVID and lockdowns, I’m glad they were able to tune in and watch us and share that moment with us.

It’s a dream come true to play at the Olympics. Even though we didn’t get out of the group stage, we created history and I couldn’t be prouder of the team for their hard work and commitment, because the games weren’t easy.

We played three games in six days and physically it was really demanding.

Importantly, these are the experiences that make you grow as a player. You can learn a lot from the positive results, but you often learn more from the losses. They make you a better player.

When we got together in Fukushima in the J-Village in early July, every day we were around each other we’ve had a family feel and a brotherly love and a connection that pushed us for every game.

The staff, since day one – Arnie and Rene – they always believed in us. They’ve really looked after us. They created more camps so our preparation was a lot better, we got to see each other a lot more, so once we entered the tournament and the training camp before, the team was ready.

Everyone knew each other; either playing and training together with the national teams or in the A-League, so once the first game came, we were reiterating that we were going to beat Argentina.

I felt it too. I had goosebumps and I had butterflies in my stomach a few days before, knowing that there was no way we were going to lose. I think we shocked a lot of people with our performance.

To be named captain for the Olympics and to lead the team was an absolute privilege. It means more than people think or realise because of my ethnic background. I feel that I represent not only Australia, but also a minority as well. I’ve got younger kids who are looking up to me as a role model and who aspire to do what I have done, or better. 

I received hundreds of messages on social media from random kids and people congratulating me and wishing me luck on the captaincy, as well as loads of support back home from friends, family and the football community and the media.

I just tried to do my part and lead the team and to be as positive as I could be, keep people level-headed and gave 110 per cent. It will definitely help me grow as a leader.

I now have an incredible experience that I can share with my children and my grandchildren in the future.  I can tell them a lot of stories about the day we beat Argentina and played a Spanish team that had phenomenal talent, but also what we have learned from our defeats too. 

I will cherish the Olympic experience forever. In many ways, it is worth just as much as any medal.