Soccer’s continuous flow depends on strict governance of the game’s laws and rules. What are the essential rules and fouls that shape soccer, and how are they enforced on the field? This in-depth guide covers everything from number of players, scoring, penalties, and overtime to handballs, offsides, and misconduct.

Understanding the standards and rulings that direct the beautiful game provides deeper appreciation for the sport.

Number of Players in Soccer

  • Professional matches are played between two teams of 11 players each.
  • One goalkeeper who can handle the ball, and 10 field players who cannot touch the ball with hands/arms.
  • Substitutions are generally unlimited, except in some tournaments which cap total subs.
  • A minimum number of players is needed to continue – 7 for adults, fewer for youth.
  • Red cards given for serious fouls lower the number of players on the penalized team.

Common Positions and Roles

Although flexible, common positions and responsibilities:

  • Goalkeeper – Protects the goal, the only player who can touch the ball with hands.
  • Defenders – Prevent goals, regain possession, provide security at the back. Center backs and outside fullbacks.
  • Midfielders – Transition play from defense to attack through ball movement, creativity, support. Defensive, central, and attacking roles.
  • Forwards – Lead the attacking play, take chances on goal, score goals. Center forwards, wingers, strikers.

Duration of Matches

  • Professional matches are 90 minutes total, split into two 45-minute halves.
  • There is a 15-minute halftime break between halves.
  • The referee can add stoppage time at the end of halves for injuries or delays. Typically 3-5 extra minutes.
  • Youth, amateur, and international matches may have shorter match lengths.
  • Ties are allowed – no overtime needed unless in tournament/knockout games.

Start of Play

  • Games are started with a kickoff at the center circle. The ball must go forward.
  • After a goal, the team scored upon restarts with a kickoff.
  • Kickoffs alternate teams at the start of each half and after goals.
  • At halftime, teams switch sides of the field to attack opposite goals.

Ball In and Out of Play

The ball stays in play until:

  • It fully crosses the sideline or goal line either on the ground or in the air.
  • The referee stops play for a rule infraction, injury, substitution, or other reason.

Play restarts with:

  • Throw in if the ball left the field across the sideline.
  • Goal kick if last touched by attacking team across the goal line.
  • Corner kick if last touched by defending team across goal line.

Scoring Goals

Goals can only be scored against the opponent if:

  • The entire ball crosses the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar.
  • No handball, foul, or other infraction was committed by the scoring team on the play.
  • The player was onside and involved in active play when scoring.

Fouls and Misconduct

Common rule infractions incurring penalties:

  • Handling the ball – Deliberate and accidental handballs
  • Dangerous high foot – Kicking excessively high
  • Charging and pushing – Barging into opponents
  • Tripping or clipping – Using legs/feet to upend
  • Slide tackling – Taking legs out from behind
  • Dissent – Arguing calls with officials
  • Unsportsmanlike conduct – Simulating injuries, delay tactics

Restarting After Fouls

Dependent on the severity and location, fouls lead to:

  • Direct free kick – For major fouls, shot directly on goal
  • Indirect free kick – For technical offenses, must touch teammate before goal
  • Yellow card – Cautions player, can lead to red card ejection if repeated
  • Red card – Ejected for remainder of game for serious foul
  • Penalty kick – Direct shot from 12 yards for foul in box

Offside Rule

The complex offside rule aims to prevent an unfair advantage:

  • Passing to teammates ahead of the last defender before recipient receives ball
  • Offside position determined when ball is played forward, not received
  • Only penalized if player is involved in active play from position
  • Not offside directly from throw in, goal kick, corner kick

Determining precise moment of pass and player position is vital.

Common Rule Modifications

Some alternate rules used in various competitions:

  • Silver goal – First score in extra time wins. Used occasionally in tournaments previously, now defunct.
  • Multi-ball systems – Additional balls around the pitch to keep action moving if original goes far away. Seen in some youth leagues.
  • Timeout – Informal timeouts allowed at the referee’s discretion to briefly pause play if needed, such as for injuries.
  • Water break – Official breaks mid-half in extreme heat conditions to hydrate.

Frequently Asked Soccer Rules Questions

How is stoppage time added?

The referee determines how many minutes to add based on time wasted from injuries, substitutions, delays. Typically 3-5 minutes total.

What are common penalties for goalkeeper infractions?

Goalies committing handballs outside the box, endangering opponents, or handling passes from teammates receive yellow/red cards.

When is a handball offense not called in soccer?

If accidental and the arm is in a natural running position tucked in, if the ball is deflected off another part of body first, or from very close range.

Can the soccer ball touch a referee during play?

Yes, referees are considered part of the field. If they intercept the ball during play, the game continues.

What are the most serious foul penalties?

Red cards requiring ejection are given for violent physical acts, spitting, irresponsibly endangering opponents, or receiving two yellows.

How has the offside rule evolved over time?

The offside law has been modified to become less strict over the decades, with fewer offside calls now on marginal plays to allow more goals.

When was yellow/red card penalty system implemented?

First used at 1970 World Cup. Red means ejection. Two yellows in a game earns a red. Standardized the punishment system across soccer.

How can technology like VAR modify referee decisions?

Video assistant referee reviews can alert referees to reverse calls on closer inspection if clear visual evidence demonstrates an obvious officiating error was made.

The nuances of soccer’s rules and standards ensure integrity, fairness, safety, and proper decorum are upheld. By learning the laws inside and out, the game becomes even more intellectually stimulating to follow and analyze.


Categories: Soccer


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


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