By: Simon Edwards

In 2011 a 19 year-old Neymar scored in the Libertadores final and lifted the famous trophy in the iconic all-white strip of Santos. It was the first title for Santos, an important, historic club, since their back-to-back wins during the era of the great Pelé in the 1960’s.

With his CONMEBOL Libertadores final performance, Neymar had reached the very top of the game in South America and consolidated his position as the new star of Brazilian football and the great hope of the Seleção. Over the years this excitement has proven to be well-founded with Neymar now one of the most respected and important stars in world football.

A decade on and an all-Brazilian Libertadores Final will once again provide the platform to launch another exciting talent into global superstardom.

When Palmeiras and Santos meet in Rio on January 30th, there will be plenty of exciting young talents involved for each side.

Who are each side’s emerging young superstars to watch out for in the final and who will make the difference for their club?

Gabriel Veron (Palmeiras):

Gabriel Veron is everything you would expect from a Brazilian wide-forward wonderkid – confidence, pace, creativity, tricks, invention and end product.

Named after Argentine midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, the quick, skillful forward joined the Palmeiras set up in 2017. Gabriel Veron excelled at u-17 level for the club and was quickly brought into the Brazil u-17 national side. In 2019 he played every game of the FIFA u-17 World Cup, scoring four goals, winning the competition and picking up the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

Shortly after returning to Brazil he made his full Palmeiras debut in September and in December he became the second youngest player to score for the club. Gabriel Veron scored twice in his first three appearances at the end of 2019 and in 2020 he has been an important first team player.

The flying Brazilian is excellent at leading a counter-attack but also has poise and creativity once he breaks into the final third. He can operate from either wing and is always quick to break into the box to provide a goal scoring threat. He is a quick, elegant, pacey player with great technique and plenty of confidence.

Gabriel Veron has an assist and three goals so far in this year’s Libertadores and he could make the difference for Verdão in the final.

Kaio Jorge (Santos):

At still only 18 years of age Kaio Jorge has already made a huge impact on this year’s CONMEBOL Libertadores scoring 5 goals in 11 appearances as a sharp, tidy, collective forward who can link the play well before breaking into advanced positions.

Like his Palmerias counterpart Gabriel Veron, Kaio Jorge has been an important player for the Brazilian youth national sides. In 2017 he scored four goals in three games at the South American u-15 championships. In 2019 he represented Brazil at the u-17 World Cup where he scored five goals including one in the final as the side lifted the title.

The quick, tenacious forward is full of confidence and is capable of finishing with good composure. While Kaio Jorge has been prolific in this year’s Libertadores and for the youth national side, he has been less effective against Brazilian club opposition with just 2 goals in his 35 first team appearances.

Kaio Jorge turns 19 the week of the final and has shown in this tournament why he is such an exciting young talent. The Brazilian frequently gets himself into dangerous areas and isn’t afraid to shoot at goal; only River’s Rafael Santos Borré has a higher xG per game in this year’s competition.

Another Libertadores goal could confirm Kaio Jorge’s place as an emerging superstar and a future Brazil national team forward.

Danilo (Palmeiras):

19 year-old Danilo has had a rapid rise to fame and has very quickly established himself as a vital, energetic, creative member of the Palmeiras midfield.

Danilo was released by Bahia as a 16 year-old and at 17 made his debut for Cajazeiras, a local lower league side that played in regional competitions in the state of Bahia. After a short spell in the first team he was invited to join Palmeiras’ u-17 side. In September 2020, he made the step up to the u20s and he was so impressive that just four days later he made his Palmeiras first team league debut.

Unlike Gabriel Veron and Kaio Jorge, Danilo is not a player who has been heavily hyped since his early teenage years, but he has made the big step up to first team football look a simple one.

The dynamic box-to-box midfielder has great energy and tenacity. He likes to break forward but also has good defensive awareness and plays a key role in Palmeiras’ organized midfield shape. When he gets on the ball he can dribble with pace, power and elegance; Danilo can quickly progress the ball up field. He looks to play sharp passes and can progress the ball forward while also able to score from range.

Danilo really is the complete modern midfielder who brings energy and discipline to his side. The young Brazilian has all the qualities to run the midfield in this year’s final.

Sandry Roberto (Santos):

Sandry is a smart, tenacious, composed 18 year-old defensive midfielder who has been entrusted by Santos to manage the game and keep possession as the side defends an advantage in this year’s Libertadores.

Sandry has represented Brazil at u-15 and u-17 level, winning the u-17 World Cup in 2019 alongside Gabriel Veron and Kaio Jorge.

The mature midfielder has been involved in the Santos first team since he was 16 and while he may still be too young to have a big impact on this year’s Final, he is a player who has already shown glimmers of real quality.

Sandry shines as an excellent passer of the ball who spots danger quickly and effectively wins back possession.

Sandry probably won’t provide the match winning moment, but the youngster could be important in helping Santos get over the line with his strong defensive play and smart game management.

Gabriel Menino (Palmeiras):

Box-to-box attacking fullback Gabriel Menino is a key man for Palmeiras and has already been included in the Brazil national team squad.

Capable of operating as a defensive midfielder, a winger, a wingback or classic attacking Brazilian fullback, Gabriel Menino has great pace, energy and athleticism. He is capable of dominating the entire right side of the field and can quickly convert defense to attack, as well as provide a few tricks and flicks in the process:

A member of the Brazil u-20 side that played the South American Championships at the start of 2019, by the end of 2020 he was in the full national team.

While the flying wingback provides a great deal going forward, he is also very effective defending in one-on-one situations. A complete modern player who plays from fullback contributing in the final third but always quick to recover his position and support the defensive unit.

Whether he is a match winner or not, Gabriel Menino is sure to have a huge impact on this year’s final – a player who never fails to catch the eye, always making things happen.