Brazil teen striker Gabriel Jesus aims high at Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil football fans are more excited by the country's young Olympic team than with the squad playing now at Copa America Centenario in the United States.
One reason is that Barcelona star Neymar will be playing in the Olympics. He's not in the Copa America.
But the main reason is 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, a striker at Sao Paulo club Palmeiras, who may wind up being the star in the Olympics as Brazil shoots for its first soccer gold medal.
He's also absent from the Copa.
In the Olympics, where squads are only allowed three players aged over 23, Jesus is expected to play alongside the country's other upcoming star Gabriel Barbosa - nicknamed Gabigol - and Neymar.
''To play with Neymar at the Olympics will be another dream come true,'' Jesus told The Associated Press. ''He is a mirror to all of us. If I ever play with him, it would be great for my career. I hope to win gold with him on my side and make history with him wearing the Brazil shirt.''
Brazil coach Dunga, who handles both the Copa America and Olympic team, wanted Jesus for the Copa America, but the youngster didn't have the documents to travel. He could have replaced Bayern Munich's Douglas Costa, Brazil's injured goal-scoring winger.
Brazil played a lackluster 0-0 draw against Ecuador in its opening match in the Copa America, and faces Haiti on Wednesday in its second match in Group B.
That Jesus didn't have documents to travel is a surprise for a player already drawing interest from giants like Juventus and Arsenal and others. But he says he isn't thinking of moving overseas yet.
''I only want to think about Palmeiras now, they gave me everything and I want to become a reference here,'' he said. ''But playing in Europe is surely in my plans. I have no preference for a specific country or a club.''
Website Transfermarkt ranked Jesus as one of the top young players in Brazil, valued at 8 million euros. Palmeiras officials have expressed concern about losing their young star as soon as the Olympic Games are finished.
Since January, Jesus has scored 12 goals, including three in the first six rounds of the Brazilian Championship.
The striker has also enhanced his defensive role, according to his Palmeiras coach Alexi Stival, known as Cuca.
''He still has a lot to mature, but Gabriel is undoubtedly a gem,'' Cuca said.
Two-time world Cup winner and three-time FIFA world player of the year Ronaldo also has high hopes for Jesus and Brazil.
''I am betting on two great talents that are still developing but already show a lot of skill: Santos' Gabigol and Palmeiras' Gabriel Jesus. And they haven't even turned 20 yet,'' Ronaldo said.