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Football Offside Rule Explained

Gain the advantage and learn how to stay onside as we explain FIFA football offside rule. Check out this simple explanation of how the offside rule in soccer works.

FIFA LAW 11: OFFSIDE: The offside offence is a technical rule infraction in association football.

In fact, getting caught in an offside position does not get punished in the same way as for committing a foul or for player misconduct.

All will become clear as we explain the fundamental rules and regulations below. This simple guide sticks to the basics of football’s offside rules.

Offside is one of the most frustrating and talked about rules in soccer. That is why we developed a popular section covering the most commonly asked questions in football.

Even so, the complexities of the football offside trap can confuse and exasperate many fans. But, it is one aspect of the game that the players and team managers need to understand in detail.

How Offside Works in Soccer

Consider this example. The recently changed offside ‘active’ ruling allows a player to be in an offside position and yet – not necessarily offside – at the same time.

Attempting to promote attacking football, the new rule means that it is not an offence in itself for a player to be in an offside position.

For a player to be in an offside position, they must be nearer to the opponent’s goal line than both the second last opposing player and the ball. But, they would only get penalised if the ball is passed to him by a teammate or if the ball touches a teammate.

Player in Offside Position

A player can get caught in an offside position in association football if (both):

  • Any part of the head, the body, or the feet is in the opponents’ half. The rule excludes a player who is on the halfway line.
  • Any part of the head, the body, or the feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.

The football referee and his assistants must make momentary decisions. They do so based on player position and the state of their ‘active involvement’ in the game.

Player NOT in Offside Position

A player would not be in an offside position in association football if they are level with (either):

  • The second-last opponent.
  • The last two opponents

Note: When making the decision about offside the referee will not consider the hands and the arms of all players involved (including the goalkeeper).

Players in an offside position can also be offside if the referee decides that the player:

  • Is causing interference or obstruction with an opponent.
  • Prevents the opponent from playing the ball.
  • Deceives or distracts an opponent.
  • Gains an advantage from where the ball rebounds off the goal post or an opposing defender.

A player would not get adjudged as committing an offside offence when:

  • Receiving the ball ‘directly’ from a throw-in, a corner, or a goal kick or when they are:
    • Inside their own half of the pitch.
    • Level with the second-last or last two opponents.
    • Level with the football or behind the ball.
    • Not ‘actively’ involved in the field of play.

FIFA Offside Offences and Player Sanctions

The referee awards an indirect free kick for any offside offence committed by a player. The opposing team would take the kick from the position on the field where the infringement occurred.

What happens if a defender leaves the field of play without getting referee permission?

In this case, the law considers them to be on the goal line or the touchline for offside purposes. It would continue until the next stoppage in play. It would also end once the defending team plays the ball towards the halfway line and it travels is outside their own penalty area.

Purpose of the Offside Rule in Football

So, there is the full and easy explanation of the basic principles of the soccer offside rule. You might be wondering what is the purpose and benefit behind soccer’s infamous trap regulation.

The rule exists most to banish goal hanging. Goal poaching is a system where a player hangs around the opposite goal area waiting for the long ball. Thus, it could get played ‘directly’ to the player to create an easy opportunity to score a goal.

Seeing many great goals scored is every fan’s favorite part of the game. But, the so-called ‘long ball game’ would ruin the skillful aspect and may make it too boring for spectators.

The player would get cautioned if they left the field of play with intent. The caution would take place when the ball is next out of play.

What if an attacking player re-enters the field from the goal line? In this case, the law considers them to be on the goal line for offside purposes if (either):

  • They become involved in play before the next stoppage in play.
  • The defending team plays the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside their own penalty area.

An attacking player can remain stationary between the goalposts and inside the goal area as the ball enters for a goal. In this case, the referee must award a goal.

The goal would not stand if the player commits an offside offence or one of the Law 12 offences. In this case, play gets restarted using either an indirect or a direct free kick.

Note: The rules of football allow an attacking player to step off (or stay off) the field of play to avoid having an involvement in active play.


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FIFA Offside Rule in Soccer Explained for Beginners