World Cup Watch: Jesus out to reclaim Brazil’s No. 9 jersey
It’s one of the biggest honors in soccer: Playing as the center forward for Brazil at a World Cup.
Gabriel Jesus knows all about that, having been handed the No. 9 jersey at the 2018 tournament in Russia and — as every Brazilian is acutely aware — failing to score a goal.
Will he get a second chance?
As it stands, Jesus is way down the pecking order of forwards for Brazil. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that national teams will be able to call up 26 players — rather than 23 — for the World Cup in Qatar, Jesus might be struggling to make the squad.
An offseason move to Arsenal from Manchester City, however, appears to have revitalized his career, especially after moving back to playing as an out-and-out striker rather than a winger, the role City manager Pep Guardiola preferred Jesus to have because of his energy and work rate.
Jesus was a revelation for Arsenal in the preseason and he has taken that strong form into the Premier League, scoring twice and having a hand in the team’s other two goals in a 4-2 win over Leicester on Saturday.
“He’s feeling disappointed in that dressing room because he said he could have scored four,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “That’s the standard, that’s the mentality you want. To go to a different level, you need that mentality. He lifts the standards.”
So, can Jesus regain his spot as Brazil’s first-choice center forward? He is currently behind Richarlison, who also moved clubs in the offseason to join Tottenham from Everton, and Atletico Madrid striker Matheus Cunha. Other options are Roberto Firmino of Liverpool and a home-based player, Flamengo’s Pedro, who Brazil coach Tite believes has the skillset to be a lone striker.
Tite has plenty of options out wide in Vinícius Júnior, Antony, Raphinha, Coutinho and Neymar, so it looks like the No. 9 position where Jesus will most likely be used.
Helping Jesus’ case is the fact that Richarlison is unlikely to be a regular starter at Tottenham this season, particularly as striker where Harry Kane is virtually undroppable.
So, the target is there for the 25-year-old Jesus, who is reinvigorated after 5 1/2 years at City which he mostly spent as a back-up.
“I was not unhappy at Manchester City,” he said. “I just wanted to play and the club understood.”
Arsenal’s gain is also Brazil’s.
William Saliba is another Arsenal player whose World Cup prospects are improving. The central defender is back at the club after loan spells in France with Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille.
Last season, Saliba helped to steady an erratic Marseille team that finished second in the French league, and with the second-best defensive record, to qualify for the Champions League. He returned to Arsenal in the offseason and now appears to have forced his way into the team, starting its opening two Premier League games.
Such is the 21-year-old Saliba’s potential — he is an excellent marker, strong in the air and has good distribution and composure — that he already has played five times for France under coach Didier Deschamps.
He is looking to challenge Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe for a starting place in Qatar.
Timo Werner is pretty much Germany’s only out-and-out forward so his lack of goals in two years at Chelsea — he only scored 10 in the Premier League in that time — must have been a concern for national team coach Hansi Flick ahead of the World Cup.
Maybe Flick can rest easy.
Werner recently secured a return to Leipzig, where he scored a club-record 95 goals in 159 games over four years before joining Chelsea, and netted in his first game back — a draw against Cologne on Saturday.
“The last two years were somewhat unfortunate; now the luck is back,” he said after the Cologne game, no doubt referring to a mistake by goalkeeper Marvin Schwäbe, who let Werner’s seemingly harmless shot go in.
Werner scored twice in Germany’s 5-2 win over Italy on June 14, the team’s last game, to take his international tally to 24 goals in 53 games.
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AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris and Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed to this report.