Brazil in mood for World Cup hurry up
No doubt about the highlight of last week's friendly international 0-0 draw between Argentina and Brazil - the moment in the second half when Brazil striker Leandro Damiao produced his speciality 'lambreta' dribble.
Cutting in from the right he ran over the ball, and then flicked it with his right foot against his left, in such a way that it did not just loop over his bewildered marker, but also fell on an ideal trajectory for him to continue his run and meet it with a lobbed volley, probably an intended cross, that looped off the far post.
It is a remarkable skill - all the more so coming from a big centre forward more known for power than finesse who was playing park football just a few years ago and now plays for Internacional.
Damiao, 22, is enjoying a dream year. He is not yet the finished article - his back-to-goal game has plenty of room for improvement. But producing such a moment of skill in just his fourth Brazil appearance did wonders for his dream of leading Brazil's attack in the 2014 Fifa World Cup. His 'lambreta' dribble is the essence of South American football - in a tight spot, with few available options, a player improvises a solution.
Striker Leandro Damiao has a bright future ahead of him in the national team. Photo: Getty
There are now fewer than 1,000 days to go until the show kicks off in 2014. The milestone was celebrated last week, with a flood of articles in the Brazilian media casting comment on the state of readiness. The chances are that getting the show on the road will require some other moments of improvisation, less welcome than the one supplied by Damiao.
Construction work is at an earlier than ideal stage in a couple of stadiums, but this is not seen as a major cause for concern. Airport capacity is a worry, but, as is the case with stadiums, money will be thrown at the problem in the next three years.
More alarming is the area of urban transport infra-structure. "The worry is very big," said Marcos Tulio de Melo, president of Confea, an organisation representing architects and engineers. "The mobility works are not as advanced as the stadiums. A lot of projects have not even been presented. We should have the works in progress, but we lack the maturity to plan."
The experience from South Africa in 2010 seems to show that strictly in the staging of a World Cup, the urban mobility aspect is not so important. For such a special event fans are keen to arrive at the stadium hours ahead of kick-off in order to be part of the atmosphere.
So, caught in a race against time to be ready for 2014, there is an obvious temptation to scale back or quietly forget some of the planned improvements in urban mobility. There is scope to improvise. "The World Cup will happen," says Marcos Tulio de Melo, "but in some places it will be necessary to have holidays or suspend lessons in schools."
But if transport improvements are not as important as stadiums in staging the World Cup, the reverse is clearly true in terms of the potential benefits to society. Brazil's cities grew rapidly over the last century, and urban transport failed to keep pace. They are full of people standing in overcrowded buses for two hours or more both to and from work every day.
Inside the 1,000-day mark, it seems clear that the 2014 World Cup will not do as much as it could to improve this state of affairs. This has been on the cards ever since the absurd delay in naming the host cities. Brazil was given the World Cup in October 2007 - but this merely confirmed a decision than had effectively been announced in March 2003.
Brazil, then, should have had most of its planning in place four years ago. But it had not even chosen its cities. The controversial Ricardo Teixeira is president both of the CBF, Brazil's FA, and of the Local Organising Committee, an unusual accumulation of power. But he did not want to take the risk of offending his power base by excluding cities from the party and so in another unusual step, the decision was passed to Fifa, and more time was wasted.
The Brazilian government must surely share some of the blame for this. Without their support the country would not have been awarded the World Cup, and the amount of public money being spent in the endeavour makes it too important to be left to the likes of Teixeira.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a wonderful poverty-to-power biography, and an assured place in the history of his country. But his role in the 2014 World Cup may not go down as his finest hour.
A football fanatic, before he took office Lula was critical of Teixeira. Once in power, wanting to play the role of global statesman, he soon saw the advantages of getting close to the CBF boss. The national team could be a powerful instrument of foreign policy. Brazil sent a peace keeping force to Haiti, and Teixeira agreed to take the team, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and all, to the Caribbean country for a friendly in 2004. During this period Lula's friendly relations with Teixeira meant that not enough pressure was placed on the CBF boss to speed up the planning for 2014.
Dilma Rousseff, Lula's hand-picked successor as president, is made of sterner stuff. It seems very clear that she has little time for Teixeira. In her mind the CBF boss may well represent the oligarchy, bloated and inept, that she has been fighting against for decades.
Had she been in power earlier it is tempting to believe that things would have been different - not only relations with Teixeira but also in terms of standing up to Fifa over the demands made on host countries.
That will remain one of history's countless 'what ifs?' Because with fewer than 1,000 days to go the priority is getting the show on the road - including the odd piece of improvisation which, hopefully, will work as well as the dribble unleashed last week by Leandro Damiao.
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. This, from last week's postbag:
Q) Do you believe that when Neymar moves to European football, which is inevitable, his place in the national team will be compromised as he continues to learn and adapt to a new lease of football outside of South America? Or is his talent too much to be overlooked by Mano Menezes?
A) Topical question, as there have been more rumours of an imminent announcement that he will join either Real Madrid or Barcelona next summer. He played it all down after Sunday's 3-1 win over Corinthians, but the destination (one of Spain's big two) and the timescale (after the Olympics) make sense. Neymar in Europe promises to be one of the most fascinating stories of the next few years. The adaptation will surely not be easy - how, for example, will he react to a very different criteria of refereeing? - but his talent is breathtaking. In terms of his national team place, he will hope to be such an established member of the first team that it will hardly matter if he has early troubles adapting to Europe.