By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter
To the surprise of no-one, Colombia have pulled out of the race to stage the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil now stand as the only candidate - but as they are well aware, this does not make the outcome a foregone conclusion.
If, as expected, Brazil is awarded the tournament later this year it will merely signal the start of the battle.
Even the 97,000-seater Maracana is not fit for the World Cup
The decision will be taken on the basis of projects and promises. If these are not kept, then there will plenty of pressure for a change of venue.
Now that the principle of rotating the tournament around the various continents appears to have been discarded then one pillar of justification for Brazil 2014 has already fallen.
The USA are thought to be waiting to step in should there be a slip up - and then there is Uefa.
With 2010 set for South Africa, this is the first time ever that two consecutive World Cups will have been staged outside Europe.
The continent generates the lion's share of the global football market, and economic strength always finds ways of translating itself into political power.
There are some in Brazil who are sceptical about the 2014 bid. The country, they argue, has other priorities.
Weight was added to this point of view last week when Brazil's sports minister Orlando Silva said that he was thinking in terms of staging the tournament in 18 cities. Germany used 12 cities last year, while France staged the 1998 competition in 10 stadiums in nine cities.
Given that by their own admission, Brazil does not currently have one stadium capable of hosting a World Cup match, using 18 cities would send the costs through the roof.
One of the most authoritative and fearless voices in the Brazilian sports press belongs to Marcelo Damato of the 'Lance!' newspaper.
He picked up on Silva's comments, writing that the sports minister "was talking as if Brazil did not have the highest tax burden in the world, some of the worst figures in education and criminality, and, worse, the tragic experience of the use of public money in the Pan-American Games."
These latter, to be staged in Rio de Janeiro in July, are proving highly controversial. Costs have spiralled, some venues are rushing to be ready in time and promises of transport legacies to the city have been quietly dropped.
In Germany last year every stadium received at least five games, while it was at least six per stadium in France 98.
A World Cup, sensibly limited to between 10 and 12 cities, could be a powerful force for good in Brazil
Using 18 venues would bring that figure down. As Damato writes, some of the new grounds "will be used for three matches, two of which will be in the group phase between teams of little fame."
And then he fears that the new stadiums will be white elephants. "Brazil, which has one of the lowest average crowds in world football, will throw away billions if we follow the wishes of the sports minister."
It is an important and valid point of view. A Brazilian World Cup with 18 cities looks like an attack of megalomania, a desire to complicate when the aim should be to simplify.
Misgivings about a World Cup staged in Brazil are clearly justified. The country has a sad tradition of private misappropriation of public funds.
But, putting on my most optimistic hat, there are also grounds to believe that a World Cup, sensibly limited to between 10 and 12 cities, could be a powerful force for good.
Damato is correct to emphasise the low average crowds in domestic Brazilian football. The sale of the stars to Europe, which seems irreversible, is clearly one explanation.
But more important are widespread poverty and even more widespread fear - the fear of being caught up in violence in a journey home made awkward by the inadequacies of urban transport. But this can be changed.
In order to stage the World Cup Brazil will have to invest, not only in stadiums, but also in underground systems and all sorts of urban infra-structure. It will create jobs and perhaps reduce criminality.
Football is a celebration of public space - a concept which has come increasingly under threat in contemporary Brazil.
If a 2014 World Cup bid can strengthen the idea of public space it will have done as much for Brazilian football as Pele did on the field.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
I wanted to ask if you know why England never come over to South America to play friendlies. The last time I can think of them doing this is when John Barnes & co. came to Brazil in 1984. Come to think of it, why do no European teams ever come over? Is it just a problem with the distance?
If there was enough money in it I think they'd be more prepared to go the distance. European club sides go off to make money in Asia and the US, but complain when they have to release their South American players for international duty.
But it's not just a case of European international teams not going to South America. Brazil and Argentina almost never play friendlies at home these days and if they do it's with home based players, like Argentina's this week against Chile, or Brazil's a couple of years back against Guatemala.
The national teams of Brazil and Argentina are global brands, and their sponsors want to take them where they can get the best return on their investment - so these days you're much, much more likely to see Brazil play a friendly in London than at home.
As a Liverpool fan, I have really been impressed with the form of Javier Mascherano. However, Rafa Benitez also signed two other Argentines in January, a left winger, Leto, and a left-back, Emiliano Insua. The reports on these players have been encouraging, what is your view on them?
Steve Richardson (and others)
Some of Rafa's South American moves have made sense to me - Mascherano, Gonzalez, Fabio Aurelio. Others - Paletta, less so, and for me I'm not really sure about these moves.
Emiliano Insua - saw him recently in the South American Under-20s. He was two years younger than most, but got into the team towards the end and featured at both left and centre-back. He looked sound and organised, and read the game well, but maybe he's bit small for a Premiership centre-back.
However, he's not going to get in the Liverpool first team for a while, I'd imagine, and, especially bearing in mind Rafa's dim view of English reserve football, I tend to think that for all reasons bar financial he would have been better off staying with Boca Juniors.
There's no substitute for first-team experience, and the great thing about being a youngster in South American football is that you're unlikely to be held back for too long.
Boca are a huge club, with all of the pressure that entails, so staying put would mean that before long he would be picking up fantastic experience. I hope he hasn't moved too soon.
Less of a winger, Sebastian Leto is more of a left-sided midfielder, with a booming left foot.
He's tall with touches of class, but if you're looking for a promising player from Argentina to play that position in the Premiership then he wouldn't be my choice - the dynamism of Velez Sarsfield's Damian Escudero makes him my pick.
Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at email@example.com