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Soccer Fouls

An explanation of free kicks and penalties in soccer

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The rules of the game are set down by soccer’s world governing body, FIFA. The association’s official handbook is a 140-page document, which includes detailed discussion of every foul, infraction, and regulation in the game. You can find it here.

Short of that, here is a summary of the different infractions that will lead the referee to blow the whistle, stop play, and possibly take disciplinary action, as worded by FIFA.

Direct Free Kick

Definition: When the referee stops play for certain fouls, he may award a team a direct free kick, meaning that team will resume play from the spot of the infraction with a pass or a shot at goal. Any members of the opposing team must be at least 10 yards away when the ball is struck. If the free kick were indirect, it means that a second player must touch the ball before it the team can shoot at goal.

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following six offenses in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • 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

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offences:

  • tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball
  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

    Penalty Kick

    A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play.

    One player may then take a free shot at goal (defended only by the goalkeeper standing on the goal line) from the penalty spot, located 12 yards away.

    Indirect Free Kick

    An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following offences:

    • takes more than four steps while controlling the ball with his hands, before releasing it from his possession
    • touches the ball again with his hands after it has been released from his possession and has not touched any other player
    • touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate
    • touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate

    An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player, in the opinion of the referee, commits any of the following three offences:

    • plays in a dangerous manner
    • impedes the progress of an opponent
    • prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
    • commits any other offence, not previously mentioned, for which play is stopped to caution or dismiss a player

      Yellow and Red Cards

      After awarding a free kick or penalty kick, a referee may take further disciplinary action against a player by showing him a yellow or red card.

      Yellow Cards

      A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:

      • is guilty of unsporting behaviour
      • shows dissent by word or action
      • persistently infringes the Laws of the Game
      • delays the restart of play
      • fails to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick or free kick
      • enters or re-enters the field of play without the referee's permission
      • deliberately leaves the field of play without the referee's permission

      Red Cards

      A player is sent off and shown the red card if he commits any of the following seven offences:

      • is guilty of serious foul play
      • is guilty of violent conduct
      • spits at an opponent or any other person
      • denies an opponent a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
      • denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
      • uses offensive, insulting or abusive language
      • receives a second caution in the same match
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