I was watching today's World Cup game between France and Switzerland. At the end of the game the referee blew the final whistle while the French team was attacking and right after a French player scored a goal:

The referee blows his whistle. And he's the Clive Thomas de nos jours, because a split second later, Benzema is lashing a first-time conversion of a right-wing cross into the top left from the edge of the area! He races off to celebrate France's sixth goal, but it won't count!

Does the referee have to wait for the end of an action to blow the final whistle or can they do it whenever they want? In case of the latter, why don't games end at e.g. 91:00, 92:00, 92:00... sharp?

3 Answers 3


The only reference in Laws of the Game, to what you are asking is the following bit regarding the additional time:

Law 7 - the duration of the match: Allowance for time lost

Allowance is made in either period for all time lost through:

  • substitutions

  • assessment of injury to players

  • removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment

  • wasting time

  • any other cause

The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.

The interpretation of this law gives some additional information, although still not a solid answer to your questions.

Many stoppages in play are entirely natural (e.g. throw-ins, goal kicks). An allowance is to be made only when these delays are excessive.

The fourth official indicates the minimum additional time decided by the referee at the end of the final minute of each period of play.

The announcement of the additional time does not indicate the exact amount of time left in the match. The time may be increased if the referee considers it appropriate but never reduced.

The referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by increasing or reducing the length of the second half

What I can say from my personal experience is that the referee will consider two factors just before blowing the final whistle:

  • is either of the teams in a favourable position?
  • is the ball in play?

The ideal scenario is that the ball is either cleared to a neutral zone by a defender or for instance by a goal kick. It's of course not always the case, and based on circumstances the ref could blow the final whistle at a less than optimal situation.

  • All I would add is that there is some discretionality. If a game is 5-1, even if a team is attacking, no team will be hurt by stopping the game in the middle of an action. It is not rare that, when a game is clearly decided (for example a 4-0), no extra time is added at the end of the game, often with both coaches agreeing.
    – user
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 19:32

There is no rule saying the ref must allow the attacking team to continue. However, it's generally understood that the ref should allow play to continue. So it's more of a guideline, not a rule.

Edit: Just saw the end of the question. The ref is allowed to add as much time as he wants, even beyond the stated amount on the board. (If a ref is obviously favoring a team, then he'll still be disciplined) This allows for injuries, subs, the ball going out of play, all of that stuff that happens in stoppage time to be taken into account.

  • 1
    Hi. Welcome to the community! Is there any reference your answer?
    – Himanshu
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 5:54

To answer your question, we must first recognize that a game is 90 minutes long; not more, not less. Some people might think that a game is 90 minutes + overtime, but that's not true. A game is 90 minutes long, and the added time is there to compensate for time lost. On TV, the clock is often running, but the ref's clock is paused when time's wasted.

That being said, the referee is supposed to end the game as soon as the 90 minutes are up, regardless of where the ball is at that given moment. The only exeption is when there's a penalty, which must be allowed to be played.

However, referees often allow the game to go on if there's an obvious chance of a goal, or a dangerous free kick situation, et cetera. They are not supposed to do it like that, but they often do to avoid unnecessary involvement and conflicts. They are supposed to end the game as soon as the 90 minutes are up, but since they are the onces deciding how much time to add on, they can be a little bit flexible.

  • 3
    "the ref's clock is paused when time's wasted"? Do you have any reference for this? How does the clock pause? Does the ref turn back his clock a few seconds when he thinks what looked like a normal break has turned into time-wasting? And do you mean he has two clocks then? If not, how do referees manage to signal the intended injury time length almost always exactly when the regular, "TV time" is over?
    – arne.b
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 19:15

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.