It's not the Cup, it's the qualifying
A European team has finally won the World Cup outside its home continent.
More than that, for the first time since 1954, Europe is now ahead of South America in the number of World Cup wins - with a strong advantage. Europe has staged the tournament 10 times and South America just four - but in 2014 the World Cup will return to the continent of its birth for the first time in 36 years.
In Brazil the South Americans will be favourites to level up the all time score at 10 wins each - especially after the form they displayed in South Africa.
Brazil and Argentina bowed out with the feeling that, respectively with better emotional and tactical balance they could have gone further. Chile impressed while Paraguay made history by reaching the last eight, and gave Spain a good game without resorting to the same tactics as the Dutch but most of all there was Uruguay. The team that finished fifth in South America's qualifiers came fourth in the World Cup - an excellent illustration of the continent's strength in depth.
The likes of Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile will hope to do even better in 2014 but first they must book their place - and that will be no foregone conclusion.
There can be no doubt that the lesser nations in South America have made dramatic strides since the introduction of the marathon World Cup qualification format in 1996. Regular competitive games and guaranteed income allows them to appoint good coaches and build a side - and also invest in their youth development work.
Starting with Argentina in the mid-90s, the South American nations have realised that the forces of globalisation take their players to Europe at an ever earlier age. The youth sides are where they secure them for the long-term future of the national team - where talented players are identified and given a crash course in their country's footballing identity.
The under-20 side, in particular, is used as a conveyor belt to the senior team - those who show promise at the level are often fast-tracked into the full squad.
All this, then, feeds into the World Cup qualifiers, which have now become the most competitive on the planet. Carlos Alberto Parreira, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994, and Luiz Felipe Scolari, who did likewise eight years later, are of the same opinion - winning the tournament was relatively straightforward. The hard part was qualifying.
The plus point is that those South American sides who make it to the World Cup are well prepared for top-level competition. The downside is the risk of missing out.
The next set of qualifiers promise to be the most competitive ever.
Rio will host matches from the 2013 Confederatons Cup, the 2014 World Cup, the 2015 Copa America and the 2016 Olympic Games
In South Africa, Argentina coach Diego Maradona made the point that Ecuador may well have given a good account of themselves had they qualified. The Ecuadorians face a rebuilding job - the generation that took them to the 2002 and 2006 tournaments needs to be replaced.
Perhaps Colombia will come through strongly. Football mad, with the biggest population in the continent outside of Brazil, Colombia narrowly missed out on the play-off place in the last three campaigns, and should be doing better. They have reappointed one of the continent's most respected coaches, Hernan Dario Gomez , who was Colombia's assistant coach in 1994, in charge in 1998 and the man behind Ecuador's debut in 2002, Gomez is steeped in experience and with him at the helm it is hard to see Colombia missing out on a fourth consecutive World Cup.
There have been signs of a slight resurgence in Peruvian football, and Peru, too, have appointed a coach of quality and experience, the Uruguayan Sergio Markarian.
Venezuela will also go into the campaign with real hopes of success. Last year they qualified for the World Youth Cup for the first time, and in the closing stages of the 2010 qualifiers many of these youngsters were thrown into senior action, with promising results.
It is clear then that there will be no cheap places available for the South Americans in 2014. Any team which manages to fight its way through the qualification campaign can have its sights set on the knock-out stage in four years' time.
But where does this leave Brazil? The hosts qualify automatically but Brazil have to rebuild their side and come up with a team capable of coping with the intense pressure that a nation of nearly 200m will put them under - and they will have to do it with very few competitive games. At senior level they have just next year's Copa America and the 2013 Confederations Cup.
For this reason the new coach - almost certain to be named in the next two weeks - will probably take charge of the under-20s and, providing Brazil qualify, of the under-23 team in the London Olympics. He will take over at a fascinating moment, for the question of style is hanging heavily in the air. Spain have shown that old-style passing football can be successful. Brazil's claim to be the great entertainers is left looking hollow. Can the international reputation of the Brazil national team survive another pragmatist at the helm? Having to overhaul the side with few competitive games, change the style and prepare for the kind of pressure that no team has ever had to experience - Brazil's new coach really will be stepping in to the hotseat.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) Don't you find the British media's witch-hunt of Uruguay's Luis Suarez quite embarrassing? Is it because they relate it to the hands of God and Henry? Or is it just some self-proclaimed right to be morally superior, even though they are not? I honestly can't see how Ghana can have any complaints, as a penalty was awarded. Uruguay had a decent claim for a penalty earlier in extra-time, while the free-kick before the handball was an absolute joke. Several Ghana players also seemed to be offside before in the situation leading up to the penalty.
A) Agreed. This kind of hysterical and often hypocritical moralising doesn't show my countrymen in their best light. As you say, the free-kick which started the whole thing was an absurd decision, and I made it two reasonable Uruguay penalty claims. The handball thing - Jack Charlton did it more blatantly in the 1966 semi-final against Portugal, and you weren't even sent off for it in those days! Much of this seemed to be fuelled by prejudice. How much flack are the Dutch getting for kicking anything that moved in the World Cup final? Imagine if that was Uruguay? Argentina were vilified for less in 1990.
Q) This question seems especially pertinent given the shambolic defending that dumped that dumped Argentina out of the World Cup. Which players are capable of coming in and doing a great service to that Argentine backline apart from Ezequiel Garay who I think has a BIG future. There seems to be a dearth of talent in especially the full-back areas.
And between the sticks, it's a sad state of affairs when Romero is your best goalkeeper. Whatever happened to Ustari and why does Argentina not produce keepers like Brazil do?
Finally is there any way they can improve defensively in a year to win the Copa America on home soil next summer?
A) They could pick a midfield for a start! Even with better defenders I think Argentina would have been overrun by Germany because the balance of the side was not right. In terms of names, I like Garay as well, and I'll be interested to see if Juan Forlin comes through this season with Espanyol. Goalkeeper has become a chronic problem. Argentine keepers these days look big on personality, but all over the place on technique. I think that Argentina should have the humility to recognise that it has fallen behind in this area and should be investigating the methods Brazil is using.