Inspiring a generation
When I fly back to Rio - the host of the 2016 Olympics - my enduring memory of London 2012 will be that of Great Britain women's football team beating Brazil.
Included in a Wembley crowd of 70,584, sitting directly behind me, was a young girl of around seven or eight who had gone along with her father.
She sat - or mostly stood - enraptured as he patiently explained what was going on. After a minute and a half they had a GB goal to celebrate.
Towards the end, dad was cheering hard for a second, mainly because it would give him an excuse to leave early and beat the rush.
Brazil's Marta (10) was closely marked during their 2-0 defeat against Japan in the quarter-finals. Photo: Getty
His daughter was having none of it. She was determined to stay until the final whistle and lap up all that the experience had to offer.
I imagine she finally arrived at home tired but with her senses filled with the occasion. Perhaps that night in her dreams she took on Brazil in front of a huge crowd at the Olympics and scored the winning goal.
Just as she was inspired by coach Hope Powell's Great Britain team, so Marta has lit the torch for so many Brazilian girls.
Marta and Brazil's story is both heart-warming and cautionary. When they went to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Brazil were under-equipped.
Their administrators had so little confidence that they only had enough pennants (exchanged by the captains before the kick-off) for the group games. Fourth place was an unexpected bonus.
Expectations were higher four years later and another fourth place was seen as a disappointment.
That's when Marta emerged to take them to another level.
A wonderfully fluid mover with a magnificent left foot, Marta is an extraordinary talent and an even more extraordinary story. From a poor background in a remote part of the country, Marta met resistance from male members of her family as a result of playing football.
This was not uncommon in Brazil - but it is much less common now.
With the grace and depth of her talent, Marta has legitimised the sport for millions of Brazilian girls and women.
The only thing missing from her international career is a top drawer title. She has come very close. Brazil won the silver in the 2004 Olympics, came second in the 2007 World Cup, and won silver again in 2008.
But now they seem to have dropped off the pace. In last year's World Cup they were knocked out in the quarter-finals on penalties. And, following their defeat by Great Britain, they were beaten 2-0 by Japan and eliminated from London 2012.
Before the tournament I was on a radio programme with the vastly experienced England defender Faye White who announced her retirement from international football earlier this summer. Her view was that GB had evolved to a point where a victory over Brazil was entirely feasible. At the time I did not believe her, but she was spot on.
I am certainly no specialist on the women's game, but my impression in the GB v Brazil match was that while Marta remains technically excellent, she did not have the staggering physical advantage she enjoyed a few years ago.
Against the dynamism of the British side, they were reduced to pumping hopeful long balls in Marta's general direction.
This, I believe, is not because Marta, or even Brazil, have lost anything. Rather, it is because opponents have made huge strides in terms of skill and, especially, fitness.
This surely has much to do with the undeniable fact that the 'Marta moment' has not been seized as it might have been. There is still no solid professional structure for the game in Brazil, which, with the equivalent of lottery money available, is a huge disappointment.
There is no easy path for the generation inspired by Marta to follow.
There is a lesson here for the British administrators. More than 70,000 people turned out to watch GB v Brazil.
Thought must be given to capturing some of these people for the long term. From coaching to marketing, the structure needs to exist to enable the little girl sitting behind me last Tuesday to turn her dreams into reality.
Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) What is your opinion of Lucas Moura. There have been lots of rumours linking him with Manchester United, but I hadn't really heard of him before this. He's now being touted in the press as the best young player next to Neymar?
A) He's undoubtedly very talented, but there's a big difference between him and Neymar. Winner of the Copa Libertadores, voted best player in South America, Neymar has done it. Lucas, on the other hand, is still much more promise than reality.
I thought it was a huge error to promote him to the senior international squad last year. I really think he should have gone to the World Youth Cup rather than the Copa America - in the former he would have carried the status of the leader of the attack, which would have forced him to develop the collective side of his game.
He has blistering pace, can sustain it, has short space dribbling skills and can shoot from range. But he can be selfish and at the moment he lacks versatility.
Last year Sao Paulo played him up front and he looked very unconvincing, and he also does not look happy on the left. He's a right-sided striker/winger/attacking midfielder - which would not seem to be a priority area for United.