Sun Sep 24 07:15:07 CAT 2017

Brazil's array of stars all pose threat to Junior Bafana Olympic adventure

By Marc Strydom | 2016-08-03 13:37:44.0

There is one real Neymar in the Brazilian Olympic team who meet South Africa in Brasilia on Thursday night‚ and at least three who have been dubbed as “new Neymars” in the country.

Neymar – the one we know‚ the player who has graduated from the somewhat frail winger with huge potential who was roughed up by Siyabonga Sangweni in Bafana Bafana’s 1-0 friendly defeat in Sao Paulo in 2013 to the world-class Barcelona superstar – is in Brazil’s team as an overage player.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the state of the desperation of Brazilian football to recover from the humiliation of their 7-1 World Cup semifinal thrashing to Germany as hosts of the 2014 World Cup that the country is searching for new Neymars before the real one (24) has reached his 25th birthday.

As usual‚ though‚ and intimidatingly for Owen Da Gama’s South Africa‚ there is no lack of emerging stars from the world’s greatest football talent production line who Young Bafana will need to keep their eye on at the 72 000-seater Stade Nacional Mane Garrincha on Thursday (9pm SA time‚ 4pm in Brazil).

Times Media Digital looks at five of them:

Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa
He was signed into the Santos youth system at eight years old and earned his nickname scoring a staggering more than 600 goals there.

Gabigol has so far not disappointed in his senior career too‚ resulting in him being one of Brazil’s “new Neymars”.

The 19-year-old has 24 goals in 82 appearances for Santos‚ six in five for the Brazil U-23s and two strikes in four games already for the senior Selecao.

Felipe Anderson
The 23-year-old winger’s 10 goals in 32 Serie A games in a spectacular season for Lazio in 2014-15 sparked furious speculation of a move to Manchester United.

His form cooled last season with seven goals in 35 games‚ but the transfer is still in the pipeline. He could be a star of the Olympic football tournament.

Scored the 20th-minute second goal against the SA U-23s in Brazil’s 3-1 friendly win in Maceio in March.

Gabriel Jesus
The Palmeiras forward is on form‚ having hit his stride and graduated – much like SA’s Keagan Dolly – from a prospect to one of the Brazilian Serie A’s most feared attackers with 11 goals in 14 games in 2016.

With two goals in six games for his country’s U-23s speculation of a move to Europe for the 19-year-old has been rife‚ and Gabriel Jesus will be aiming to utilise the Olympics to help seal a deal. Another Brazilian labelled a young Neymar.

One of coach Rogerio Micale’s most experienced players‚ the 22-year-old centerback has over 100 top-flight European games under his belt already in Serie A with AS Roma and France’s Ligue 1 for Paris-Saint Germain.

He almost missed the Olympics as French champions PSG were reluctant to allow their stalwart centreback to miss their preseason. Undoubtedly one of the leaders for Brazil at the Olympics.

Neymar’s 23-year-old teammate has found making a breakthrough difficult at Barcelona‚ whose youth system he signed for at 13‚ spending time on loan at Celta Vigo.

But the attacking midfielder is much admired in the Brazilian national teams‚ and would have been included in the senior squad in June’s Copa America in the USA had it not been for injury.

Rafinha played six times for Barcelona’s first team last season‚ where he was sidelined for seven months with a cruciate ligament injury.