‘Gabigol’ off mark as Brazil down Panama

Los Angeles (AFP) – Rising teenage star Gabriel scored on his international debut as Brazil warmed up for the Copa America Centenario with a 2-0 victory over Panama.

Gabriel — affectionately known as “Gabigol” — underscored his precocious talent by calmly finishing Brazil’s second goal on 73 minutes soon after replacing veteran striker Jonas as a second-half substitute. 

Santos forward Gabriel, 19, is regarded as the natural heir to Neymar, who also played his club football for the iconic Brazilian side before his transfer to Barcelona in 2013. 

The teenager, who has scored 19 goals in 74 appearances for Santos since 2013, had been called up to Brazil’s senior squad in March but was an unused substitute. 

However he wasted no time in making his mark after being introduced by manager Dunga for his first senior appearance at Denver’ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sunday. 

The teenager pounced on a loose ball in the area, took one touch to control and then drilled a low finish past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo — before racing to the Brazil dugout to hug manager Dunga. 

Earlier, Benfica striker Jonas had given Brazil the lead after only two minutes to continue his rich vein of form from the European club season. 

Jonas, recalled to the Brazil squad in March after four years in the wilderness following his last cap in 2012, swept home a low cross from Atletico Mineiro’s Douglas Santos to make it 1-0. 

The 32-year-old forward — who finished this season with one of the best goalscoring records in Europe with 34 in all competitions — was a late addition to Brazil’s Copa America squad after an injury to Ricardo Oliveira earlier this month.

But aside from Jonas and Gabriel’s goals it was a frustrating evening for Brazil, who were unable to convert long periods of dominance into goals.

Penedo denied Barcelona fullback Dani Alves midway through the first half, tipping over the defender’s venomous free-kick from 25 yards. 

Chelsea midfielder Willian also threatened the Panamanian goal, linking up with Jonas only to see his shot blocked with a desperate covering lunge by Felipe Baloy on 27 minutes.

Renato Augusto also went close with a header that hit the side netting while second half substitute Hulk should have done better with a header from point-blank range that Penedo parried away. 

Brazil open their Copa America campaign against Ecuador at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Saturday, before games against Haiti and Peru in Group B. 

Panama face Argentina, Chile and Bolivia in Group D of the special edition Copa America, which is being held in the United States for the first time to celebrate the competition’s 100th anniversary.

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