What is a Foul in Soccer: Laws of the Game

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

Some people may not think of the beautiful game as a contact sport, although it is, and there are plenty of contact moments that lead to fouls. But what is a foul in soccer?

Fouls are an important part of the game for new players, coaches, and fans to understand. Fouls, or offenses, are part of the game, although sometimes they can get too rough, and there are many different types of fouls and consequences.

That is why in this blog I will be going over everything you need to know about one of the most important basic soccer rules, fouls and misconduct.

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Understanding Fouls and Misconduct

Fouls are rule-breaking actions called by the referee that can lead to various consequences. They can involve physical contact or sneaky non-physical offenses like wasting time.

Minor Offenses/ No card

Non-intentional foul or non-contact rule breaking that leads to an indirect free kick for the other team.

Caution/ Yellow Card

If a player commits a foul in a dangerous manner that could potentially injure a player they can get a yellow card, which is the same as a caution. A tactical foul that stops the field of play can also lead to a yellow card.

Offensive, insulting, or abusive language as well as other verbal offences can also lead to a yellow card. If a player gets a second caution in the same match that leads to a red card.

Expulsion/ Red Card

If the referee believes that the player commits any of the following fouls that can potentially lead to a red card, which means the player must be ejected from the game.

  • Serious foul play
    • Tackle or foul that puts the other player at a clear risk of an injury
  • Violent conduct
    • Punching, kicking, spitting, head butting
  • Commiting a foul during an obvious goal scoring opportunity for the opposing team
    • Deliberate handball offense inside the box
    • Tactical foul involving the last defender

Understanding Direct Free Kick Offences

Direct kick fouls, or direct free kick offenses, happen when a player commits certain fouls involving physical contact. These fouls can disrupt the flow of the game and often result in consequences that give the fouled team a possibility to score.

The following type of fouls can lead to a direct free kick offense if the foul was committed outside the penalty area, or penalty box. If any of the following fouls happen inside the penalty area that leads to a penalty kick, not a direct free kick.

  • Serious foul play involving excessive force
  • Playing dangerously
  • Player slide tackles in a careless or reckless manner
  • Deliberately pushing or charging at an opponent
  • Kicking, punching, spitting, biting, or head butting an opponent or match official
  • Throwing something at the opponents, match officials, or opposing team fans

Understanding Indirect Free Kick Offences

Indirect kick fouls, or indirect free kick offenses, happen when a player commits certain fouls involving non-contact scenarios like dangerous play patterns, impeding progress, and time-wasting tactics.

Dangerous Play Patterns

Dangerous play patterns are actions that put players at risk without making physical contact. Think of high kicks near someone’s head or trying to play the ball while lying on the ground in a crowded area.

Impeding Progress On The Field

Impeding progress is when a player deliberately blocks an opponent’s movement without having the ball. It’s like creating an unfair maze for the other team. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has clear guidelines on this offense.

Time-Wasting Tactics Explored

Time-wasting can happen during throw-ins, free kicks, goal kicks, or even when the goalkeepers are taking forever to release the ball into play, eating up precious game minutes.

Role of Technology in Decision Making

In the modern era of the game technology has become an integral part from GPS tracking vests, to smart soccer balls, to of course VAR, or the Video Assistant Referee. The VAR works in a video operation room and it is a revolutionary tech that aims to eliminate human error by giving referees a second look at crucial moments during a soccer match.

The VAR system isn’t just about influencing outcomes; it’s also about enhancing fairness and maintaining integrity across matches although sometimes its use can be questionable and even with VAR there are still a lot of controversial moments.

The use of VAR typically comes into play during four critical situations:

  • Goals: Confirm whether there was a violation during the build-up to a goal.
  • Penalties: Assisting referees in deciding if penalties should be awarded or not.
  • Straight red cards: Reviewing serious foul play incidents which may warrant a sending off offence
  • Mistaken identity: Ensuring disciplinary sanctions, yellow and red cards, are given to the correct player when multiple individuals are involved in an incident.

To get familiarized with how VAR works during live matches, you can check out FIFA’s official video guide. It gives an excellent overview showing how officials interact with this technology while making important decisions under pressure.

Foul in soccer

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you kick the ball deliberately at an opposing player?

Yes, in soccer you can kick the ball deliberately at the opposing player

Can you throw the ball deliberately at an opposing player during a throw in?

Yes, if you are taking the throw-in correctly you can throw the ball deliberately at the opponent as long as it is not in a careless or reckless manner.

When does the attacking team get a direct kick foul?

The offensive team can get a direct free kick when a serious foul occurs outside the penalty area such as during a dangerous tackle or to prevent a clear goal scoring opportunity.

If a serious foul occurs inside the defending team’s own penalty area, then the attacking team gets a penalty kick, not a direct free kick. A direct free kick can also lead to a yellow or red card depending on the severity of the foul and how it took place.


In conclusion, understanding when an offence occurs along with its consequences is one of the most important parts of the game. There are different types of fouls, such as a caution offence or a sending off offence and different types of consequences which is exactly what we covered in this blog today.

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