Soccer Fouls

An explanation of free kicks and penalties in soccer

Soccer player kicking ball at goal
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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 a 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 offenses:

  • 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 offenses 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 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 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 offenses:
      • plays in a dangerous manner
    • impedes the progress of an opponent
    • prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
    • commits any other offense, 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 offenses:
        • is guilty of unsporting behavior
      • 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 the 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 offenses:
        • 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 offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
      • uses offensive, insulting or abusive language
      • receives a second caution in the same match