I've watched a couple of World Cup matches (US/England; Brazil/NK; some of Spain/Switzerland) and Sun Tzu has come to mind....
On first thought, it is a bit difficult to apply Sun Tzu to soccer (football...). The battle situations that he anticipates are more fluid than a sporting competition. In soccer there is a very specific, unchanging objective: to score goals (or, conversely, to keep the adversary from scoring goals). Everyone always knows that the prime objective is. Thus, it is hard to see how this Sun Tzu idea can translate into soccer strategy:
To be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect. To be certain to hold what you defend is to defend a place the enemy does not attack.
Therefore, against those skilled in attack, an enemy does not know where to defend; against experts in defense, the enemy does not know where to defend. VI.7,8.
Everyone knows, ultimately, where the attack will come in soccer: it is aimed quite intently on the goal. And everyone knows where the defense will be concentrated - at least in those instances where one team is emphasizing the defense. The field is too restricted, the rules too determinative, to allow for too much in the way of uncertainty about what will be attacked and what will be defended.
But there are Sun Tzu ideas that are more applicable. This passage, for instance:
Anciently, the skillful warriors first made themselves invincible and awaited the enemy's moment of vulnerability.
Invincibility depends on one's self; the enemy's vulnerability on him.
It follows that those skilled in war can make themselves invincible but cannot cause an enemy to be certainly vulnerable.
Therefore, it is said that one may know how to win, but cannot necessarily do so.
Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack.
One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant. IV.1-7.
I think this very well captures the Brazil/NK game and the Spain/Switzerland game. The North Koreans and the Swiss clearly understood themselves to be the weaker team in their respective competitions. Their strength was inadequate, so they emphasized defense. In doing so, they were, at the outset, basically conceding an outright victory and were playing for a tie because they had to give up their attack - and, as Sun Tzu notes, the possibility of victory lies in the attack; if you hunker down in search of invincibility you give up the attack, and thus the chance for victory. In such circumstances, not losing takes precedence over winning.
Sun Tzu would thus approve of the NK and Swiss strategies.
Things turned out better for the Swiss because the Spanish made themselves vulnerable. Their relentless and fluid -and, yes, beautiful - attack eventually yielded an opening for the Swiss counter. It was a bit ugly, but it worked. Not so much for the North Koreans. The Brazilians - with their signature beautiful play - maintained sufficient defensive presence (this, after all, has been Dunga's mantra). Personally, i think all of the strum und drang about Brazil losing its panache is overblown. Their interior passing and creativity are still better than any other (and that includes Spain...). Robinho was marvelous. In any event, it was a breakdown in the NK defense, a momentary hesitation by the goalkeeper, that opened the door for the first Brazilian score. NK turned out not to be as invincible as they had hoped.
Here's one last thought. For all of the talk about Brazilian defense, they maintained a relentless attack against NK. Granted, they were the clearly superior team in all facets of the game, so, as Sun Tzu would say, an attacking posture was certainly appropriate. But let's see what happens as we get further into the tournament and Brazil faces tougher teams, such as Portugal. It could be that Dunga is trying to get into the head of the adversary; make them think that Brazil will be hanging back, emphasizing defense. This could encourage the Portuguese to come forward, creating certain vulnerabilities, that can be quickly exploited by the powerful Brazilian attack. Perhaps Dunga is following on of the most famous of Sun Tzu's ideas:
All warfare is based on deception. I.17
Perhaps he is trying to make the adversary believe that Brazil will be concentrating on making itself invincible as a means of inducing the other side into making themselves vulnerable....