Soccer Fouls: Free and Penalty Kicks

Soccer player kicking ball at goal
Chris Ryan / Getty Images

Fouls in soccer, or association football, are penalized by either free kicks or penalty kicks, depending on the particular foul and its severity. FIFA, soccer's world governing body has set down the rules of the game in its official handbook, which includes a detailed discussion of every foul, infraction, and regulation in the game.

There are a range of the different infractions that will lead the referee to blow the whistle, stop play, and possibly take disciplinary action.

Direct Free Kick

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.

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 offenses:

  • Tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball
  • Holds an opponent
  • Spits at or bites someone

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

If the free kick is indirect, a second player must touch the ball before the team can shoot at goal. An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following offenses:

  • 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 teammate

An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player:

  • Plays in a manner deemed dangerous
  • Prevents the progress of an opponent without any contact being made
  • Uses offensive or abusive language and/or gestures
  • Prevents the goalie from releasing the ball
  • Attempts to kick the ball while the goalie is trying to release it

Penalty Kick

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

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. The yellow card is a caution, while the red card means a more serious offense that allows the referee to remove the player from the game.

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

  • Unsporting behavior
  • Dissent by word or action
  • Infringement of the laws of the game
  • Delaying the restart of play
  • Failure to respect the required distance when the play is restarted with a corner kick or free kick
  • Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee's permission
  • Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission
  • Committing any other offense, not previously mentioned, for which play is stopped to caution or dismiss a player

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

  • Serious foul play
  • Violent conduct
  • Spitting at an opponent or any other person
  • Denying 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)
  • Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving toward the player's goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
  • Offensive, insulting, or abusive language
  • Receiving a second caution in the same match