One of the, shall we say, charms of the Olympic soccer tournament is the inclusion of young talent. For the men’s tournament, teams are only allowed to bring three players over the age of 23. While the Olympics might not have the same prestige for the men as the World Cup or even regional tournaments like the Euros or Copa America, it is a great chance for some of the world’s future superstars to become household names. We’re taking a look at five players who you should be paying close attention to in the coming weeks.
Gabriel Jesus – Brazil
Gabriel Jesus plays for Palmeiras in the Brazilian league, but that’s unlikely to be the case for much longer. Gabriel has been linked to some of Europe’s biggest teams, from both Manchester clubs to Bayern Munich. He’s only 19 but he’s been called the next Neymar by many. He’ll get a chance to play with the aforementioned Barcelona superstar as they will try to win gold on home soil. In 2015, Gabriel was named best newcomer in Brazil, so his reputation comes with some lofty expectations. Brazil has been seen as a one man team for some time, but if Gabriel can live up to a lot of his hype it might be about that time for a Brazilian Resurgence.
Gabriel Barbosa – Brazil
Another young Brazilian talent is Gabriel Barbosa, and like Gabriel Jesus, he’s also been called the next Neymar. Barbosa plies his trade for Santos in Brazil, Neymar’s former club. Barbosa was the top scorer in the Copa do Brasil a year ago, and is likely to form an attacking trio with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. Barbosa is also a wanted man by a fair share of European clubs. Chelsea has been reportedly interested in the 19-year-old. Brazil should have a strong attack at the Olympics this year, and it should be fun to watch. They’ll be desperate to win on home soil after the embarrassing ending to the 2014 World Cup, Barbosa should help.
Mallory Pugh – USWNT
While the USMNT will be watching from their homes, the US women will be looking for their 4th consecutive gold medal at this year’s Olympics, and one of the newest stars is 18-year-old Colorado native Mallory Pugh. Pugh might not find much time on the pitch given she’s going to be competing with Alex Morgan for playing time, but it’s hard to imagine she won’t see any time on the pitch. More than likely, Pugh will be put out on the wing when Morgan is on the pitch because she’s such a playmaker that manager Jill Ellis will put her out on the pitch at all possible. What’s even more impressive about the young goalscorer is the Women’s competition isn’t restricted to the same age requirements the men are. So while some of these 18 and 19-year-olds mentioned on the men’s side may not necessarily crack the senior team, Pugh is headed to Brazil purely on merit.
Julian Brandt – Germany
Another in the seemingly endless production line of German attacking midfielders, Julian Brandt is only 20-years-old but he’s already been a mainstay in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. Usually deployed on the wing, Brandt’s future may be as a center forward given Germany’s current situation in that position. He’s 6-foot-1 and has shown little trouble putting the ball in the net. He became the youngest player since the legendary Gerd Müller to score in six consecutive Bundesliga matches this most recent season. Germany has never won an Olympic gold medal, they tend to use these tournaments to experiment with youth. So for Brandt and a few others like Schalke’s Max Meyer, the trip to Brazil could very well be the first audition for a trip to Russia in two years.
Angel Correa – Argentina
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before, a small Argentine forward with a low center of gravity, elusiveness, speed and a terrific first touch. With Argentina’s senior squad in a bit of disarray, many will be looking toward the future, and the Olympics will give a glimpse of what could be in store for the national team. Angel Correa, who plays for fellow Argentine Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, could be the goal scorer of the future for the South American giant. He’ll form an attacking trio with fellow Atletico player Luciano Vietto and River Plate striker Giovanni Simeone son of Diego. Correa has received plenty of praise from his club and national team coach and if he’s able to continue to develop he could be a formidable weapon for years to come.