Sometimes all you really need to break out of a two-year death spiral is a pair of sick goals from a 19-year-old debutant. That's what Gabriel Jesus gave Brazil on Thursday, getting the five-time World Cup champions' campaign to qualify for Russia in 2018 back on track.
After Neymar put the embattled Brazilians ahead on a penalty, Brazil's other teen prodigy—the one that isn't Gabriel Barbosa, whose nom de guerre is Gabigol—put on a show.
In the 87th minute, Gabriel Jesus's volleyed backheel on a short cross from Marcelo put the game away.
And then, in injury time, Neymar scampered away up the left again and cut back for Jesus, who looked off the wide-open Paulinho to his right and curled in his second beauty of the night to make it 3-0.
Lately, the Brazilian team had been in a bad way. Ever since the humiliating 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup on home soil, the decay had set in hard. Brazil was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa America and didn't even survive the group stage of the Copa Amerca Centenario this past summer. Unthinkably, the mythical men in yellow and blue weren't even in a position to qualify for the next World Cup through six rounds of qualifying. Out went the manager, the dour Dunga.
Brazil won the Olympic tournament in Rio in cathartic fashion, when Neymar hammered home the winning penalty after the final with Germany went to a shootout, but that was an underage tournament. It felt good, but it didn't count for much for the senior side. Gabriel Jesus scored three times in that tournament, but he seemed some way from contributing to the big team. He'd been snapped up by Manchester City for big money, but they, too. thought he needed more time and arranged to let him remain with his Brazilian club Palmeiras until the end of the year.
Thursday's win lifted Brazil from sixth to fifth place in CONMEBOL qualifying, which entitles the holder to a spot in the playoffs. But with 11 games to go, plenty of time remains for new manager Tite—pronounced "CHEE-tay," not "tight" or "titty"—to climb another spot and qualify automatically. The win also lifted the spirits, Gabriel Jesus to overnight hype, and the dark clouds from the Brazilian national team.