Brazil bets on talented trio to try to win first soccer gold
Brazil's men's soccer team is betting on a talented trio of attacking players to try to finally break through and win Olympic gold.
Star striker Neymar and promising youngsters Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol will lead Brazil's attack when the hosts debut at the Rio Games against South Africa on Thursday in Brasilia. There are high expectations about the front three, touted by most Brazilians as the best forwards the country has available.
Neymar has already established himself as a top player with Barcelona, while Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol are considered Brazil's next big stars, 19-year-olds who are set to make their move to big European teams.
''It's easy when you get to play with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus by your side,'' Gabigol said. ''We need to stay near each other to try to find spaces in the defense. We have to take advantage of each other's qualities.''
Gabigol recently received an offer from Italian club Juventus worth 20 million euros, but the youngster is yet to decide his future. There are reports that Inter Milan and other top clubs are also after him. The sturdy and skillful striker currently plays for Santos, the same team where Neymar thrived before leaving for Barcelona.
Gabriel Jesus has just reached a deal reportedly worth more than 30 million euros to move from Brazilian club Palmeiras to Manchester City. The team coached by Pep Guardiola announced the signing on Wednesday. The speedy forward is the leading scorer in the Brazilian league and is expected to stay with Palmeiras until next year.
''He is formidable,'' Brazil Olympic coach Rogerio Micale said of Gabriel Jesus. ''He is still growing as a player and has some things to improve, but that's normal, Neymar went through the same process before he was able to achieve everything that he has achieved.''
Like Neymar, Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus have been a constant in Brazil's youth squads, and the trio is also expected to lead Brazil's attack at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Olympic gold medal is the only significant trophy Brazil is yet to win in soccer. The five-time World Cup champions won the silver three times, including in London four years ago when a team led by Neymar lost the final to Mexico.
Victory in Rio should help ease some of the local fans' disappointment after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals of the home World Cup two years ago. The two teams could face again at the same stage of the Olympic tournament this year.
After playing South Africa, Brazil will face Iraq and Denmark in Group A of the 16-team tournament. The top two teams in each of the four groups advance to the quarterfinals.
Seven other games will be played in the men's tournament on Thursday, including Mexico vs. Germany, Portugal vs. Argentina, Nigeria vs. Japan and Sweden vs. Colombia.
The final is Aug. 20 at Maracana Stadium.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni