Winning the Cup with the Art of War

World Cup 2010, South Africa

"Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought."

Vicente Del Bosque and Bert Van Maarwijk will probably not be sleeping too soundly tonight, wondering if they have left any stones unturned in their quest to win the World Cup tomorrow night.

Whichever coach triumphs will see his name etched into the annals of the game forever as the first Spanish or Dutch World Cup-winning manager; the expectations are huge, the nervous anticipation inevitable as their heads hit the pillows in South Africa.

World Cup 2010, South Africa

Questions will be scurrying through their minds - How can the Dutch contain the tiki-taka of Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, how can they shut down David Villa and stop Pedro or Fernando Torres running amok in their last third?

Will the Spanish have the steel to avoid the meaningful attentions of Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong? Can their defence cope with the craft of Wesley Sneijder in the middle and the high-speed threat of Arjen Robben slicing down the flank?

If Del Bosque or Van Maarwijk have exhausted their years of football knowledge for answers, perhaps they could turn over two and a half thousand years back to the Chinese wisdom of Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War', a perennial favourite for learning how to beat your enemy and win. Hey, if it worked in the 6th century B.C....
  • He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks - a united team spirit, where everyone pulls in the same direction
  • Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an attack - get ready for the counter
  • Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him - Not sure pretending to be rubbish works, but playing catenaccio and break can
  • If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him - pinpoint their hotheads and wind them up, a la Materazzi and Zidane
  • If he is in superior strength, evade him - Attack the ropey right-back, not the classy left-back
  • If his forces are united, separate them - Get between their centre-backs, exploit that danger zone
  • Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected - Overlap fullbacks and make blindside runs
  • Show them a little prospect of gain to lure them, then attack and overcome them - A classic feature of counterattacking, wait until they have committed numbers forward before hitting them on the break at speed
  • The highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans - Sounds like Jose Mourinho's extensive counter-planning and the antithesis of Brian Clough's 'let them worry about us'
  • He will win who is not interfered with by the sovereign - Let your star men express themselves
  • Prevent the junction of the enemy's forces, disrupt them, cut their supply lines - Seems obvious enough, break-up their passing by closing down and pressing high up the pitch
  • The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided Attack their weak points, or more literally, don't lump high ball after high ball into the area if they are strong dealing with crosses
  • He will invariably conquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive or defensive - Oh yes, understand the phases of the game, when to soak up the pressure, when to frustrate, when to attack in numbers
  • If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat - Do your homework on the opposition, get your scouts to follow them and prepare a battle plan and how you would play yourselves, because others will be penning them on you
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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