Laws of the Game
Soccer’s rules and regulations are maintained and updated annually by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The board consists of eight members, four of which come from FIFA, and the other four coming from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales – all countries that contributed to the development of the sport. The IFAB currently acknowledges 17 laws of soccer that are the standard for any professional or international match played. They are:
Law 1: The Field of Play
Soccer can be played on either grass or artificial turf, but the surface must be green in color. The field must be rectangular in shape, and distinctly marked by two short goal lines and two long touchlines (sidelines). The field is divided into halves, separated by the halfway line, which runs from the midpoints of each touchline. At the midpoint of the halfway line is a marked center point surrounded by a lined center circle with a radius of 10 yards. Opposing players are not allowed to enter this circle during the possessing team’s kick-off. The length of the touchline must be greater than the length of the goal line.
Law 2: The Ball
A soccer ball must be spherical in shape and made of leather or similar material. Its circumference must be in the range of 27 to 28 inches.
Law 3: The Number of Players
Matches are played by two teams of 11 to a side, including the goalkeeper. If a team cannot field at least seven players at match time, the game is a forfeit. FIFA-sanctioned matches are generally limited to three substitutions per match. Substitutions may only enter at the halfway line, upon the referee’s approval, and after the player being subbed out has left the field. The goalkeeper may be substituted with anyone on the field or any eligible substitute on the bench during a game stoppage.
Law 4: The Players’ Equipment
All players are required to wear a jersey, shorts, shin guards, socks and cleats. The socks must cover the shin guards entirely. If the referee deems a player’s equipment unsatisfactory, the player can be sent off until the issue is remedied.
Law 5: The Referee
The referee is the authority on the field, and his word is law. If you question a referee’s decision, you can be disciplined further simply for dissent.
Law 6: The Assistant Referees
The assistant referees are primarily responsible for assisting the referee in performing his duties – this includes signaling with a flag when a ball goes out of play, when a player is fouled, or when a player is in an offside position.
Law 7: The Duration of the Match
A soccer match is comprised of two 45-minute halves, with extra time added for each at the referee’s discretion. The extra time generally corresponds with the referee’s determination of how much time was taken up due to substitutions and injuries. The amount of extra time is announced and displayed at the half line at the end of each 45-minute period. The halves are separated by a half-time period not to exceed 15 minutes. Although soccer does have an allotted time limit, it is ultimately up to the referee’s discretion as to when to end a match.
Law 8: The Start and Restart of Play
Kick-off is generally determined by a coin toss, whereby the winning team can either choose to start with the ball or choose which goal they would like to attack. The losing team is then afforded whatever choice the winner does not elect to take. Kick-off occurs at the start of each half, and after each goal scored. It is taken at the center of the halfway line. If a team scores a goal, the opposing team is given the kick-off to restart the match.
Law 9: The Ball In and Out of Play
The ball is out of play when it fully crosses either the goal line or the touch line. It is also out of play if the referee stops play for any reason. If, for any reason, the ball strikes the frame of the goal or the referee and remains within the goal and touch lines, it is still in play.
Law 10: The Method of Scoring
A goal is scored when the entire ball has crossed the goal line within the frame of the goal. At the end of the match, the team with the most goals is the winner.
Law 11: Offside
When an attacking player receives the ball while on his opponents’ half, he must be level with or behind the second to last defender (the last typically being the goalkeeper). However, this rule only applies if he is involved with the play.
Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct (See Law 13 for an explanation of direct and indirect kicks.)
A direct free kick is awarded when a player
Kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
Trips or attempts to trip an opponent
Jumps at an opponent
Charges an opponent
Strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
Pushes an opponent
Tackles an opponent
Holds an opponent
Spits at an opponent
Handles the ball deliberately
If any of these fouls are committed by a player in their team’s penalty area, the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick.
Indirect free kicks are awarded if a player
Plays in a dangerous manner
Impedes the progress of an opponent
Prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his/her hands
Commits any other unmentioned offense
Yellow cards are awarded as a caution or warning to a player and can be issued for the following offenses:
Dissent by word or action
Persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game
Delaying the restart of play
Failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick, or throw-in
Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission
Red cards are used to send a player off the field, and can be issued for the following offenses:
Serious foul play
Spitting at an opponent or any other person
Denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (the goalkeeper being an exception)
Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
Using offensive or abusive language and/or gestures
Receiving a second caution (yellow card) in the same match
Law 13: Free Kicks
Free Kick is broken into two categories, direct and indirect. A direct kick can be shot directly into the opponent’s goal without touching another player. An indirect free kick is indicated by the referee raising his hand during the kick. An indirect kick can only go into the goal if it has subsequently been touched by another player before it enters the goal. The ball must be stationary for both types of kicks.
Law 14: The Penalty Kick
A penalty kick is awarded either when a defensive player fouls an attacking player or commits a handball in his/her team’s penalty area. The penalty kick is placed at the penalty spot, and all players on both teams must remain outside the penalty box during the shot. They may enter the box immediately after the shot is taken. The goalkeeper may move horizontally along the goal line before the shot is taken, but he may not come off the line until the ball is struck.
Law 15: The Throw-In
A throw-in is awarded when the possessing team plays the ball out of bounds over the touchline. While taking a throw-in, a player must release the ball with both hands simultaneously and keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. If these conditions are not met, play is stopped and the throw-in is given to the opposing team. Players are not allowed to score directly off a throw-in.
Law 16: The Goal Kick
A goal kick is awarded when the offensive team plays the ball out of bounds over the defensive team’s goal line. After the ball is out of play, the defender or goalkeeper may place the ball anywhere within the six-yard goal box and kick the ball back into play.
Law 17: The Corner Kick
A corner kick is awarded to the offensive team when the defensive team plays the ball out of bounds over its goal line. The ball is placed within the corner area and is kicked back into play by the offensive team. Players can score directly off a corner kick.