Brazil hopes young Olympic champions can boost senior team
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) With Olympic gold finally in hand, the pressure is squarely on Brazil's senior team now.
The home of ''Jogo Bonito'' is considered by many to be the most powerful soccer nation in the world. The Brazilians have won a record five World Cup titles, eight Copa America championships and now an Olympic gold medal - at their home Olympics, no less.
''Now we need to look toward the future,'' said Rogerio Micale, the coach of Brazil's Olympic team. ''Not only to the next match, but to the future of the national team.''
Brazil last won the World Cup in 2002. Although the ''Selecao'' has been competitive in every tournament since, the team was humiliated by a 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals at the last World Cup, which was also hosted by Brazil.
Neymar, the national team's biggest star and a teammate of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, is the present, and expected leader of the team by the time the next World Cup comes around in Russia in 2018.
The future is Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol, both 19-year-old strikers. Defenders Marquinhos and Rodrigo Caio, too.
They all played at the Olympics and helped the team win gold, giving the host nation its biggest moment of the Rio de Janeiro Games and restoring some of its soccer pride.
Since that devastating defeat against Germany two years ago, Brazil lost in the quarterfinals at the 2015 Copa America and then, playing without Neymar, was eliminated in the group stage at this year's Copa America - the South American continent's biggest tournament.
At the Olympics, Neymar was one of three overage exceptions for Brazil in a tournament for under-23 teams and served as the team's captain. He even wears the No. 10 made famous by Pele.
Playing in the gold medal game at the iconic Maracana Stadium against Germany, Neymar scored the winning penalty kick - and almost immediately broke into tears.
The celebration won't last long, with a pair of World Cup qualifiers coming up against Ecuador and Colombia.
Tite, the coach of Brazil's senior national team, will announce his squad for those matches on Monday, with Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol among those expected to be named alongside national team veterans such as Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Oscar, Willian and Douglas Costa.
''I think we have a very good generation of players and I think that they can contribute a lot,'' Micale said. ''The seed has been planted.''
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni