Wed, 14-Nov-2018, 23:35
Wed, 14-Nov-2018, 23:35


Picture Picture Gallery Related Video
The contrasting fortunes of Brazil's Gabriel Barbosa and Gabriel Jesus

The contrasting fortunes of Brazil's Gabriel Barbosa and Gabriel Jesus

Less than six months ago, when he prepared for his first game as Brazil coach, Tite had a big decision to make.
He was taking over a team under pressure. Brazil were down in sixth place in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification table, outside the slots that guaranteed a spot at Russia 2018.

The fixtures ahead looked tricky, starting with a visit to the altitude of Quito to take on Ecuador, who were level on points with leaders Uruguay. In such daunting circumstances, who should take the role of centre-forward, such a problem position for Brazil in recent times?

In the previous round, away to Paraguay back in March, then-coach Dunga had gone with the veteran Ricardo Oliveira, who had scored a goal as Brazil came back from two down to snatch a draw. But maybe the time had come to move on. In the meantime Brazil had won the Olympic gold medal. Perhaps Tite could promote one of the young lions from that team?

There were two candidates. One was Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras. The 19-year-old was the undoubted star of the domestic league. But he had played poorly at centre-forward as Brazil got their Olympic campaign underway with two dreary goalless draws. And then there was Gabriel Barbosa, the so-called "Gabigol" of Santos, who had spent the Olympics cutting in from wide on the right but who had experience of playing at centre-forward for the senior side.

It was not an easy decision to make, as Tite confessed. In the end he went with Gabriel Jesus -- and though he might have had some doubts during an initial 70 minutes against Ecuador when the youngster spent most of the game offside, he was soon delighted with his bold option.

Gabriel Jesus tipped the balance, first winning a penalty and then scoring two superb late goals in contrasting manners. It began a run of five goals in six games as Brazil threw off the pressure and put together six consecutive wins that have virtually sealed their place in Russia with a third of the qualification campaign still to come.

As well as his goals, Gabriel Jesus has caught the eye with the excellence of his movement and his combination play -- and took all of that confidence with him to the north of England, where he made such a dramatic early impact with Manchester City.

And what of Barbosa? If, back in August he was running virtually neck and neck with Gabriel Jesus, the subsequent six months have not been kind to Gabigol. It was more a case of "Gabi-gone from the public eye" as he joined Inter Milan and was hardly seen.

It was surely not the ideal moment to move to a club going through a difficult transition. And patience is perhaps not the greatest virtue of a player who acquired something of a reputation in Brazil for being too big for his boots. So while Gabriel Jesus was grabbing the glory, Gabigol was kicking his heels.

But perhaps, lately, the pair have switched fortunes. Gabriel Jesus, of course, has picked up that metatarsal injury that threatens to keep him out of action for at least a couple of months -- he will certainly miss the World Cup qualifiers away to Uruguay and at home to Paraguay at the end of March.

Gabigol, meanwhile, has reminded everyone of his existence, finally getting some game time with Inter Milan and scoring a late winning goal against Bologna on Sunday. Maybe the next few months will belong to him.

Tite will certainly be keeping an eye on the action.