One of the obvious favorites for the Rio Olympics’ soccer tournament is host nation Brazil. With Olympic football being primarily an under-23 tournament with four exceptions per team, fans across the world should be ready to see some unfamiliar talent take center stage at these Olympics, especially with Brazil’s senior side taking part in the Copa America in the United States. In 2014, Neymar was the star everyone wanted to see for Brazil, but his team lost to Mexico in the Gold Medal match. This time around, there is a new young face of the Brazil team in Rio.
From the club that produced Pele and Neymar comes Gabriel Barbosa. A product of Santos FC, the Brazilian powerhouse of a team, the man commonly known as Gabigol is ready to make a splash in Rio. At just 19, he already wears the most prestigious number for his team: the number 10—a number he shares with Brazilian football legend Pelé. This proves how much of a leader and difference-maker he is on the pitch, and, more important, that he has the skill to be the star of a professional team as a teenager. In his two full professional seasons with Santos, he scored 21 goals in both years in all competitions. In those seasons, he was just 17 and 18, so naturally he is already drawing comparisons to Neymar. With about two and a half pro seasons already under his belt and a prolific scoring record to go along with his nickname, the 5’10” forward is primed to star for Brazil.
Sure, the youngster has only one senior appearance for the Brazilian national team—but he managed to score in that lone match, which came against Panama in a friendly on May 29, 2016. Gabigol will get the chance to play alongside 4 players over the age of 23 due to Olympic rules. Experienced players such as Chelsea’s Oscar, PSG’s David Luiz, Real Madrid’s Marcelo, and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino were dropped by the senior team’s coach, Dunga, for the Copa America, meaning that a few of those four players could be guiding Gabriel through the Olympics. Additionally, the powerful winger Hulk from Russia’s St. Petersburg has stated previously that he wanted to play in Rio, so his experience may help Gabriel mature and get ready for a move to Europe if all goes to plan this summer in Rio.
Already seeming like a man among boys in a competitive professional league, Gabigol is experienced beyond his years. In a group including South Africa, Iraq, and Denmark, the teenager from the host nation should be a focal point in his team’s attack. If the boy can steal the spotlight in Rio de Janeiro, Dunga may be looking at a long-term solution to his perennial problems at center forward.