Free Kick in Soccer Explained: Laws of the game

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

What is a free kick in soccer? Free kicks are an important part of the beautiful game but sometimes the rules can be a bit complicated for new players and fans.

Free kicks are awarded by the referee when a player commits a foul against the opposing team and there are different types of free kicks and consequences. In this blog post I will discuss everything you need to know about one of the most basic parts of the game, free kicks.

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What is a Free Kick in Soccer?

A free kick is awarded by the referee and it is a way to restart play for the team that has been fouled. They allow teams that have been fouled to score goals directly or indirectly, but they are also tactical tools that help teams move the ball up the field.

When awarding free kicks, the referee holds all the power. They’re like the judge and jury, following FIFA guidelines to determine if an offense deserves a free kick and if disciplinary actions such as yellow or red cards are needed.

Types of Free Kicks

In soccer, there are two types of free kicks, a direct free kick or an indirect free kick.

Direct Free Kicks

A direct free kick allows the free kick taker to shoot directly at goal from where the foul took place as long as it is outside the penalty area. If the foul is inside the offender’s penalty area, the attacking team will get a penalty kick, not a direct free kick.

During a direct free kick the defending team players form a wall to help the goalie block the shot at goal, but they have a required distance that they have to be away from the ball.

These are the direct free kick offences:

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

Indirect Free Kicks:

An indirect free kick means that the free kick taker cannot shoot directly at goal. If they want to shoot at goal, someone from the team has to touch the ball first, but once the touch is made the players on the opposing team creating the wall can rush the player.

Indirect free kicks are for less severe offenses, like dangerous play patterns, impeding progress, and time-wasting tactics, while direct free kicks are for more serious offences.

When is an Indirect Free Kick taken from Inside the Penalty Area

As mentioned above, a direct free kick cannot be given inside the offender’s penalty area because if a direct free kick offense does occur, a penalty kick is given instead. However, an indirect free kick can be awarded from inside the penalty area.

An indirect free kick inside the penalty area can create some of the most chaotic moments in a soccer game, but it is not that common. An indirect free kick can be given inside the penalty area when the defending team commits a less serious offense, without any player to player contact.

For example, if a player deliberately passes the ball back to the goalkeeper and they pick up the ball, that is when an indirect free kick is awarded inside the penalty area. The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to use their hands inside their own penalty area, but they cannot pick up the ball if their teammates pass it to them deliberately otherwise it is a handball offence.

Controversies Surrounding Free Kicks

The implementation and execution of free kicks in soccer can sometimes stir up controversies that confuse players, fans, and even officials. These situations often come from misinterpreting rules during high-pressure situations.

Thiery Henry’s Sneaky Goal Against Chelsea Explained

In 2004, Thierry Henry of Arsenal scored a cheeky freekick goal against Chelsea. The referee had his back turned, and Henry took advantage of the distraction to catch everyone off guard, including the goalkeeper, who was still setting up his wall.

This incident sparked debates about fair play. Some called it unsportsmanlike, while others praised it as brilliant gameplay exploiting a momentary lapse in enforcement. Controversies such as this can significantly affect players’ morale and the overall game atmosphere.

The Role of the Match Official and VAR

Although FIFA has established rules about the consequences of fouls and offenses during a soccer game, the rules can get confusing and can even get subjective at times. This is why it is important for the referee to be clear and firm with the decisions they have made and use VAR if they have to, to make a better informed decision.

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 require a sent off player
  • 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.

Free Kick in Soccer

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a direct and indirect free kick in soccer and how is a free kick awarded?

A direct and indirect free kick are two ways to restart play once an offense has occurred and the type of foul that has occurred dictates what type of free kick is awarded to restart play.

Can players take a free kick quickly?

Yes, a player can take a free kick quickly to confuse opponents and catch them off guard. If the other team does not create a wall fast enough and stand in front of the ball once the referee whistles for a foul, the attacking team can take the free kick quickly.

If the team that committed the foul stands in front of the ball, the team that got fouled will not have a clear chance to take a free kick quickly. If this happens the free kick taker will have to ask for a wall and the referee stops play to allow the wall to set up properly.

What is the difference between a penalty kick and a free kick?

A penalty kick and a free kick are both ways to restart the field of play if a foul is committed but they are awarded in different areas of the field. A penalty kick is awarded four serious offenses that happen inside the penalty box while direct free kicks are awarded for offenses that happen outside the box.

An indirect free kick can happen inside the penalty box for minor offenses.

What is the best goal scored directly from a free kick?

There have been a lot of amazing direct kick goals. Here is a video of the top 20 free kicks in soccer history.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between an indirect and direct free kick is important for any new player, fan, or coach of the game. In this blog I covered everything you need to know about a free kick in soccer from how free kicks are awarded to the different types of free kicks.

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