Here is the play.

It was yesterday in a Copa Libertadores match. The header ended in the goalkeeper's face. The referee decided to send off the player with the VAR. The rules of soccer are not really clear about this situation, or yes? The rule about excessive force or brutality makes no distinction between "on purpose" brute force but, honestly, I think the rulebook could have a modification regarding this kind of "accidents": why mustn't the not so clever incident maker pay for his "mistake"?


1 Answer 1


The Laws of the Game are completely clear on this, and they define careless, reckless, and excessive force. These are used to determine the punishment for an illegal tackle or challenge i.e. free kick only, caution, or sending-off.

In this video, both players were moving towards the ball, but only the goalkeeper had any realistic chance of winning it. The attacker, while moving at much greater speed, threw his head towards the ball and the goalkeeper. The attacker is likely to have known that he had minimal chance of playing the ball fairly, and there was every chance that his head would collect the goalkeeper, probably above the chest. A compounding factor is that once the goalkeeper has the ball in their hands, any challenge, regardless of how it is made, is illegal.

The outcome of this, is that even though he was making some attempt to play the ball, the attacker's head made heavy contact with the goalkeeper's head, solely as a result of the attacker voluntarily committing himself to a challenge that he had minimal chance of winning fairly. The referee decided that this endangered the safety of an opponent, and as per the first paragraph of my answer, this must result in a sending-off.

Contrary to your suggestion, the Laws of the Game do somewhat make a distinction between "on purpose" brute force, and "accidental" brute force, but not in those words.

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 3 - Disciplinary Action:

Serious Foul Play

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play.


Violent conduct

Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.

Players sent off for violent conduct are typically suspended for much longer than those sent off for serious foul play. This is the distinction. The reason that both offences result in a send-off is because challenges made with excessive force, no matter how accidental, can shorten or even end playing careers.

  • Thanks! I totally agree with your opinion and I was not suggesting that excessive force must not be punished if accidental. I share your view: your costly mistake can end someone's career! Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 18:26
  • @JuanPabloGarcia - no problem, thanks for the clarification, I'll edit that (perhaps hasty) assumption that I made out. :) Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 3:12
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    Yes, the rules are fairly clear, however because football gives rise to complex situations, I would also say that determining the correct outcome in many situations is not necessary always clear. To that end the referees are required to assess intention (perceived motivation) and precedence (what was the order of things) to weigh the determination. Ultimately, a good way of looking at it is asking the question "what would we reasonably expect of players in this situation"? - the ref obviously assessed that the player should have pulled out of the attempt for the safety of the goalkeeper.
    – garth
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 1:14
  • Well studro, Conmebol accepted Cruzeiro's allegations and they allow the player to play next match... @garth that's why I suggest that "accidental by miscalculation" must be added as a sent off reason in the rules... Can't a dishonest manager send someone to pretend an accident to get rid of a player? Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 5:56
  • That's precisely what happened with Ramos in the Champions League final, when he adjusted his body to capture Salah's arm under his body as he landed, (Salah was then out for the remainder, and not fully fit for World Cup). Many are incensed by Ramos' continual dirty tricks. But, it is very hard to police. I don't think anything needs to be added to the laws since that is what the refs are assessing when they make a decision - in this case CONMEBOL disagreed. Hopefully VAR helps, and means that it is unlikely that future malicious acts will escape punishment.
    – garth
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 7:22

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