Grafite poses threat to Man Utd
Grafite almost certainly woke up last Thursday morning hoping that it would be his day. Coach Dunga was about to name Brazil's squad for the final two rounds of World Cup qualification, away to Bolivia and at home to Venezuela, and with a place in South Africa already booked, there were likely to be some experiments.
Grafite's club performances had been pushing his claims for an international call-up.
Last season he could not stop scoring for Wolfsburg and he began this season's Champions League campaign with a hat-trick against CSKA.
For years considered a journeyman striker in Brazil, the 30-year-old had now lifted himself to a different level - but not, as it turned out, into the national team.
Grafite scores the final goal in Wolfsburg's 3-1 win over CSKA Moscow
Dunga's side are hardly struggling for strikers. Luis Fabiano, an ex-partner of Grafite at Sao Paulo, is top scorer in World Cup qualification - as he also was in the Confederations Cup, Nilmar scored a hat-trick in Brazil's last game and Adriano is back in form - joint top scorer in the Brazilian championship - and back in favour.
Dunga chose to keep this group together and the other striker named was Diego Tardelli of Atletico Mineiro, a swift and skilful player who has been included in recent squads.
With things going well it is hard to break in from outside and now there are only friendlies in mid-November and next March before final World Cup squads are named, so it is going to take something special - an injury to someone else or perhaps another hat-trick at Old Trafford - for Grafite to force his way in.
Brazil have the luxury of leaving out such a free-scoring striker, and of ignoring Amauri, the Juventus forward who may throw in his lot with Italy. And there is Ronaldo as well, back from his latest injury and on target once more for Corinthians on Sunday.
The strength in depth of Brazilian football is truly amazing. Where do they all come from? What's the big secret? Some will tell you that it is futsal, the indoor five-a-side game that is possibly now Brazil's most played sport.
There is indeed much to be said for futsal as an aid in player development. Small sided games give players more touches of the ball. And playing in reduced space clearly helps train on against one situations. Some of the tricky dribbles displayed by the Brazilians have come straight from futsal.
But, in my humble view, the idea that futsal is Brazil's big secret is going way too far. Such a claim flies in the face of geography, economics, history and the evidence from the pitch.
Much more than futsal, Brazil's secret weapon is the sheer size of the country. With a population of over 190 million, in a land where football is the only mass sport, it would be strange if Brazil did not produce plenty of players.
Then there are economic factors. Some progress is being made, but the truth is, as Sergei Soares of the country's research institute announced last week, that Brazil remains "a monument to economic inequality."
Just under 70% of the population earn less than £350 a month and he added: "A poor family will take one year to spend what the richest 1% spend in three days."
Football is a way out and youngsters are well aware of it. I have talked to gifted footballers under 10 years of age and been struck by how they see their own talent in commercial terms - they are already dreaming of the house they will buy for their mother or the flash car they will be driving and they already want to play for Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Brazil are the reigning world futsal champions
This economic drive to succeed at football is clearly the result of having role models to emulate - and it is here that the importance of history is apparent. One generation inspires the next, a process that was taking place in Brazilian football long before the mass adoption of futsal. The Brazilian tradition of producing top players predates this relatively new form of the game.
Rivelino puts in in perspective. The great left-footed attacking midfielder from the 60s and 70s was an early practitioner of futsal, which is said to be the source of his famous 'elastic' dribble.
But when he wrote his autobiography, it was entitled 'Get Out of the Street, Roberto' - the phrase he always heard his mother shouting at him.
He took little notice - and was proved right. He argues that the street formed him as a man and as a footballer. In subsequent decades urban expansion and growing violence have eaten up or rendered unsafe the old spaces where kids used to play. Hence the importance of futsal. It is a safe substitute for the greatest producer of players yet known - informal street football.
I was musing on these themes on Sunday as I watched Brazil's latest generation of hopefuls show their stuff in the World Youth Cup in Egypt and brushed aside a Costa Rica team with considerable merits 5-0. Brazil's Under-20s displayed the same ruthless pragmatism as the current senior side.
Just like Dunga's team in World Cup qualification or the Confederations Cup, the door was unlocked at set-pieces - free kicks and corners curled at pace into the opposing penalty area and attacked in the air by a phalanx of tall players.
These moves are producing rivers of goals for Brazil - and it is certainly not something they have picked up from futsal.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other 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) As a Venezuelan, I'm ecstatic to see one of our national sides at a major competition (the World Youth Cup). What are your thoughts on this side? They've made history in Venezuela, however, Rafael Romo and José Salomón Rondón aside, most of them are unknown outside of Venezuela. Who should we be looking out for, and who do you think has the greatest chance of making the leap across the pond to one of the "Big 3" European leagues?
A) I've written about this team in a few places, because I think this is one of the most fascinating stories that South American football has thrown up this year. OK, it probably wouldn't have happened without home advantage in the qualifying tournament, but Venezuela have qualified for the World Youth Cup for the first time - and the most interesting aspect is that coach Cesar Farias is using this Under-20 team to renew and regenerate the senior national side. Seven of the Under-20s have already appeared this year in World Cup qualifiers, other have appeared in friendlies - and all this has been done without sacrificing results.
So while Venezuela have made a fantastic start in the competition (beating Nigeria 1-0) the importance of these players goes far beyond - they are a bet for the long term. I particularly like the attacking midfielder Pena, who has already gone to Braga in Portugal. Salazar and Velasquez are a very promising centre back duo, little Del Valle up front is very tricky, Flores, Parra and Acosta in midfield are all interesting, and Romo might not be the tidiest keeper in the world, but he's effective.
I hope there's not too much pressure on them too young. Together with the established players, Arango and Maldonado, Rincon and Vargas, there is hope that Venezuela might reach the senior World Cup -2010 looks too soon (they'll have to win away to Brazil), but they start the 2014 and 18 campaigns in the running for a place.
Q) Why do you think Marquinhos hasn't been the latest player to leave for Europe? Is he likely to be one of the ones that stays around in Brazilian football for a while?
A) He was a revelation of last year who has had an awful 2009. He's a frail, jitterbug figure who worked well in the system Vitoria played last year - he was breaking behind a lone striker, cutting across from the left onto his stronger right foot.
I wondered about the step up and fitting into other systems - frail and one footed is not a great combination. Moved to Palmeiras, had some injuries, didn't do anything and the team are doing very nicely without him. After 26 rounds they're top of the table and his contribution has been a grand total of nine minutes on as a sub nearly two months ago. Back to the drawing board in 2010.