The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is tasked with the responsibility of maintaining soccer rules and regulations and making updates annually.
IFAB consists of 8 board members – four board members, are from FIFA while the other four members come from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
FIFA’s rule book is very extensive with over 130 pages, which is why we found it important to prepare a comprehensive summary of the laws of the game, ideal for soccer players who are just getting started with this beautiful game. This simplified version will assist you in learning the laws of the game.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) currently has 17 laws of soccer in place. These laws must be observed in all professional and international soccer matches. Let us look at the laws of the game.
Law 1: The Field of Play
Soccer can be played on either a grass field or a surface covered by artificial turf. Soccer games must, however, be played on a surface that is green in color.
The soccer field must have a rectangular shape, with two distinct short goal lines and two distinct long-touch lines.
A halfway line, which is a straight line connecting the midpoints of the two touchlines, divides the field into halves.
At the midpoint of the halfway line, there is a marked center point that is enclosed by a lined center circle. The lined center circle has a radius of 10 yards.
During kickoff, players from the non-possessing team are not allowed to enter the lined center circle. The touch lines must have a greater length than the goal lines.
Regulations on lengths
- Touchline – The touch lines must have a minimum length of 100 yards and a maximum length of 130 yards
- Goal line – the goal lines must have a minimum length of 50 yards and a maximum length of 100 yards.
- The goal area – the length of the goal area is 6 yards from each goal post measured along the goal line. The width of the goal area is 6 yards measured perpendicular to the goal line and out into the field.
- A 5-foot high corner flag is planted every corner of the soccer field.
Law 2: The Ball
A soccer ball must have a spherical shape. It must also be made of leather or other comparable materials.
The circumference of a soccer ball must be between 68 and 70 cm (about 22 cm in diameter).
The weight of a soccer ball must be between 410 and 450 grams, and it should be inflated to a pressure in the range of 0.6 to 1.1 standard atmospheres at sea level.
However, this rule regarding size is only applicable in officially sanctioned matches.
Youth leagues often use smaller balls that are more suitable for younger players.
Law 3: The Number of Players
Generally, soccer matches are played by two opposing teams of 11 players each. The 11 players include the goalkeeper.
A scheduled match must be forfeited if a team does not have seven or more players ready to play at match time.
In youth leagues, it is quite common to have teams of fewer than 11 players on each side – coaches use smaller teams as a developmental strategy.
In FIFA-sanctioned matches, the number of substitutions is usually limited to 3 per match (3 substitutions for each team), except in friendly matches.
In most youth leagues, an unlimited number of substitutions is allowed. The substitutions must, however, be listed on listed on the game card before the match begins or those players will be ineligible.
Substitutions may only enter the field at the halfway line, after the referee’s approval and the subbed player having left the pitch.
During a game stoppage, the goalkeeper can be subbed with any player on the pitch or any eligible substitute player on the bench.
Law 4: The Players’ Equipment
All soccer players must wear a jersey, shorts, cleats, shin guards and socks. The socks should cover the shin guards completely.
A referee may make a judgment on a player’s equipment, and if they deem it unsatisfactory, the referee can send off the player until the issue is fixed.
Law 5: The Referee
The referee has all the authority on the field, and water they say is law. If a player questions the referee’s decisions, they can be subjected to further disciplinary measures simply for dissenting.
The referee’s powers
- Stopping, suspending or ending the soccer match at their own discretion, because of any infringements of the soccer laws.
- Stopping, suspending or terminating the match due to outside interference.
- Stopping the match if they believe a player has seriously been injured to create time for the injured player to be removed from the field of play. Note that an injured player cannot return to the field of play unless the match has restarted.
- Allowing the play to proceed until the ball goes out of play if the referee is of the opinion that a player is only slightly injured.
- Allowing play to proceed when the fouled team will benefit from such a decision, and penalizing the team that commits the offense for the original foul if the anticipated advantage does not arise.
- Taking disciplinary action against the players that commit minor and serious sending-off offenses. The referee is not obliged to take such disciplinary action immediately, but they must do so the next time the ball goes out of play.
- Taking action against team officials who conduct themselves irresponsibly. The referee may, at their discretion, expel such team officials from the field of play and the immediate surroundings of the field of play.
- Enforcing the laws of the game.
- Cooperating with the assistant referees to control the match. Where applicable, the referee works with the fourth official.
- Ensuring that any ball used in the match meets the set requirements.
- Ensuring that every player’s equipment has met the requirements according to the laws of the game.
- Keeping time and a comprehensive record of the match.
- Ensuring that any bleeding player leaves the field of play. The referee, if satisfied that the player has stopped bleeding, may allow them to return to the field of play.
- Punishing the more severe offense when a player commits multiple offenses simultaneously.
- considering the advice from the assistant refs and acting accordingly.
- ensuring that unauthorized persons do not enter the field of play.
- Indicating the restart of the match after a stoppage.
- Providing the relevant authorities with a match report. The referee’s match report includes disciplinary actions taken against players and any other incidents that occurred involving the match.
Law 6: The Assistant Referees
The assistant referees’ primary responsibility is to assist the referee in the performance of their duties – this includes using their flag to signal when the ball goes out off play, when there is a foul, or when there is an offside situation.
Law 7: The Duration of the Match
A soccer match is played for two 45-minute halves, and extra time can be added to each half at the referee’s discretion. A half-time period of not more than 15 minutes separates the halves.
The extra time added for each half generally corresponds, in the referee’s own opinion, to the time taken up by substitutions and injuries.
The amount of extra time must be announced and clearly displayed at the half line when the regular 45-minute period ends.
Soccer does not have a specified time limit, and it is up to the referee to decide on when to end a match.
Law 8: The Start and Restart of Play
Kick-off is usually determined by tossing a coin, whereby the winning team either chooses to start the ball or choose the goal they will attack.
The losing team takes the other option that the winning team did not pick. Kick-off occurs when starting each half, and after every goal that is scored.
All kickoffs are taken at the midpoint of the halfway line. When a team scores a goal, the kick-off is given to the opposing team so that they restart the match.
Law 9: The Ball in and Out of Play
The ball is considered to have gone out of play if it completely crosses any of the goal lines or touchlines.
The ball is also considered out of play when the referee stops play for whatever reason.
The ball is still in play if, for instance, it strikes the goal frame or the referee but remains within the goal lines and touchlines.
Law 10: The Method of Scoring
A goal is scored when the soccer ball entirely crosses the goal line and within the frame of the goal.
When the match ends, the team with the higher number of goals is the winner, eliminating the necessity for extra time.
Law 11: Offside
If an attacking player receives a ball while they are on the opposing team’s half, they must be on the same line or behind the second last defender (the last defender is usually the goalkeeper). Note that this rule only applies if the player is involved with the play.
Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct
Misconduct that leads to an award of a direct free kick
- When a player kicks or attempts to kick a player form the opposing side.
- When a player trips or attempts to trip a player from the opposite team.
- When a player jumps at an opponent.
- When a player charges an opponent.
- When a player strikes or tries to strike an opponent.
- When a player pushes an opponent.
- When a player tackles an opponent.
- When a player holds an opponent.
- When a player spits at an opponent.
- When a player deliberately handles the ball.
If a player commits the mentioned fouls while in their team’s penalty box, the opposing side is awarded a penalty kick.
If a player commits the following, an indirect kick is awarded
- Plays dangerously.
- Impedes the progress of a player in the opposing team.
- Prevents the goalkeeper from releasing passing the ball from his/her hands.
- Commits any other undefined offense
Yellow cards serve as a caution or warning to players. Yellow cards can be issued for such offenses as
- Unsupporting behavior.
- Dissident by word or action.
- Persistent infringement of soccer rules
- Delaying when restarting play
- Failure to observe the rules on the required distance when play restarts with a corner kick, throw-in or free kick.
- Making entry or re-entry to the field of play without permission from the referee
- Leaving the field of play deliberately without permission from the referee
When a player receives a red card, they should immediately leave the field of play. Red cards can be issued for such offenses as
- Extreme foul play
- Violent conduct
- Spitting at other players or any other person
- Deliberately handling the ball to deny the opposing team a goal or a high-probability goal scoring opportunity (the goalkeeper is an exception in this rule)
- Use of offensive language and gestures
- Receiving a second yellow card in the same match
Some offenses may attract disciplinary actions by relevant soccer authorities even after the match is over.
Law 13: Free Kicks
There are two kinds of free kicks – direct free kicks and indirect free kicks.
With a direct free kick, players are allowed to shoot directly into the opponent’s goals without the ball being required to touch another player.
A direct free kick is taken from the point where the foul occurred, unless the foul occurred within the fouled team’s goal area, in which case the fouled team can take the kick from any point within the goal area.
Opponents must be 10 yards away from the ball until the kicker plays the ball. The ball is considered to be in play once the kicker has moved it.
However, if the direct kick was taken from within the fouled team’s penalty area, the ball becomes in play when it passes directly beyond the penalty area.
An indirect kick is taken from the point where the infringement occurred, except in situations where the foul was committed within the awarded team’s goal area, whereby the indirect kick may be taken from any point within the goal area.
The referee raises his hand during an indirect kick, to indicate the kick. An indirect kick must be subsequently touched by another player before entering the goal. If it does not touch another player but goes into the goal, that goal is declared void.
The ball is in play as soon as the kicker moves it, except in situations where the kick was taken from within the penalty area of the awarded team, in which case the ball becomes in play when it has entirely left the penalty area.
The ball has to be stationary both for a direct and an indirect kick.
Law 14: The Penalty Kick
Penalty kicks are awarded if a defensive player fouls an attacking player within the defensive player’s penalty box, or when a defensive player commits a handball in their team’s penalty area.
In a penalty kick, a player from the side which was awarded the penalty kick is allowed to take a single on-goal shot while only the opposing team’s goalkeeper defends the kick.
During a penalty kick, the soccer ball is placed at the penalty spot (the penalty mark is 12 yards from the goal line, and it is at the midpoint of the two touchlines).
During the penalty shot, all players on both teams (except the defensive goalkeeper and the kicker) must remain outside of the penalty area but within the field of play.
The players must be behind the penalty mark, and not less than 10 yards from the penalty mark. Players are allowed to enter the penalty box once the penalty shot has been taken.
The goalkeeper can make lateral movements along the goal line before the penalty shot is taken, but they are not allowed to come off the goal line until the shot is taken.
The assistant referee handling the goal line where the penalty kick is taking place stands at the point where the penalty area and the goal line intersect and stays alert looking for any infringements or valid scores.
Law 15: The Throw-In
A throw-in is awarded when the team with ball possession plays a ball that goes out of bounds over the touchline.
The throw-in must be taken near the point where the ball crossed the touchline.
The throw-in is given to the opponents of the player that last made contact with the ball when it went out of bounds.
Opposing players are allowed to stand at any distance from the throwing player as long as it is not closer than 2 m (2.2 yards) from the thrower, and they must still be on the designated field of play.
The thrower may take the throw-in at a point that is farther back from the touchline.
The thrower must face the designated playing field at the moment of making the throw.
The player should throw the ball using both hands, from behind and over the head. The ball is considered in play immediately it enters the field.
The player who takes the throw-in has to release the ball with both hands simultaneously while keeping both feet planted on the ground.
If the player who takes the throw-in does not observe these conditions, the play is stopped, and a throw-in is awarded to the opposing team.
The player taking the throw-in is not allowed to throw the ball directly to the goal and score.
Law 16: The Goal Kick
A goal kick is given when the offensive side plays, and the ball goes out of bounds over the defensive team’s goal line (either on the ground or in the air). The last person to touch the ball has to be from the offensive team.
After the referee declares the ball out of play, the defender or goalkeeper places the ball at any position within the goal box and the kicks the ball back into play.
Also, a goal kick is awarded to the defense team when a ball is played directly into the goal, with the last person to touch it being from the attacking team, and from a situation where scoring an attacking goal directly is not permitted. These situations are
- An indirect free kick
- A throw-in
- A dropped ball
Law 17: The Corner Kick
A corner kick is given to the offensive team when a player from the defensive team plays the ball out of bounds over their team’s goal line.
The ball must have been last touched by a player of the defensive team. A player from the offensive team kicks the ball from within the corner area and back into play.
The kick must be taken from the corner area nearest to where the ball left the designated field.
With a corner kick, players are allowed to score directly off the corner kick.
The assistant referee signals that a corner kick should be awarded by first raising their flag, then using the flag to point at the corner are on the side of the pitch they are in.
Note that this is not an indication of where the corner kick should be taken from.
The referee will then award the corner kick by pointing to the arc where the kick will be taken from.
The corner arc is at the point where the goal line and the touchline intersect and has a radius of one yard.
All defending players must be positioned not less than 10 yards from the corner arc until the kicker makes the corner kick. A corner kick is considered taken when the kicker moves the ball.
Even though FIFA publishes precise soccer rules, national and regional leagues often modify these rules for various reasons.
It is therefore essential that you correspond with your coach or league manager regarding any deviations from FIFA’s established set of rules.