Questions about the sport of football, also known as soccer, futbol, association football, etc. Not to be confused with "American football" which is contained under the [american-football] tag.
Association football, more commonly known as football (in most of the world) or soccer (in North America and especially the U.S. where "football" more commonly refers to American gridiron football), is a ball-and-goal sport played between two teams. With over 250 million players in 200 countries and a spectator audience in the billions, it is the world's most popular sport.
The game is played on a rectangular field of grass or green artificial turf often called a "pitch", between 100-120 yards long and 45-50 yards wide. These boundaries are marked by white lines; the longer sides are "touchlines", while the shorter sides are "goal lines". Each goal line has one "goal" 8 yards wide and 8 feet tall, typically constructed of tubular steel, wood or fiberglass, painted white with a net draped along the back and sides to contain the ball. The exact dimensions and construction of an official football pitch can vary, in part because the game is played in regions of widely varying wealth and climate.
The ball itself is a skinned inflatable sphere, primarily white in color, between 27 and 28 inches circumference, 14 to 16 ounces in weight, and between 8.6 and 17.5 psi. Again, a wide variation in materials and construction is permitted. The international governing body, FIFA, selects the "official" ball to be used in each World Cup tournament (held every four years), and similar balls are typically used in league play in intervening years; the on-field referee has final say on whether a ball is allowed for use in the game. The most familiar configuration, used in World Cups for over 30 years, is a 32-panel "truncated icosahedron" of pentagons and hexagons, often with the pentagons in a high-contrast color such as dark blue or black.
The object of the game is for each team to score more goals than their opponent during the allotted time. A goal is scored by propelling the ball completely across the goal line, between the goal posts and underneath the goal crossbar. A game is typically 90 minutes, measured in "running time"; the clock continues to run even when play has been stopped. However, if play is stopped for a significant time, such as in case of an injury, the referees may add extra time to the end of the game. A game cannot end with a penalty shot assessed but not taken, even if the time it takes to do so extends beyond "full time" and "extra time".
Each team has 11 players, one "goalkeeper" or "goalie" and 10 "outfielders". The goalkeeper has the eponymous job of preventing the ball from entering the goal by any means necessary, and so typically stays near his team's goal. The outfielders typically take a "formation" that provides some balance of offense and defense. These formations typically have three or four "lines" of players, made up of "forwards" (primarily offensive players who attempt to score goals), "midfielders" (primary job is to gain possession of the ball in the middle third of the field and move it to the forwards), and "backs" or "defenders" (assist the goalie, interrupt scoring plays and generally keep the ball out of their team's net).
In general play, the outfielders may not touch the ball with their hands or arms. The one exception to this is when "throwing in" from the touchlines if the ball goes out of bounds. The normal way to propel the ball is thus by kicking it, hence the name "football", although any other part of the body can be used to contain or direct the ball, such as the knees, torso, or head. The goalkeeper, who is differentiated from other players on his team by a contrasting-color jersey, is allowed to touch the ball with hands or arms to catch or deflect it (the keeper often wears padded, tacky gloves to aid him), and may also pick it up off the turf, but may only do these things while he and the ball are in the penalty area surrounding his team's goal (a large box marked in white lines, beginning 18 yards from each goalpost along the goal line and extending 18 yards outward from it).
Players may step out of bounds at any time, but the ball itself must stay within the touchlines and goal lines to be "in play". The ball is out of play when it completely crosses outside any boundary line; as long as any part of the ball overlaps the boundary line as seen from above or to the side, it's still in play. If the ball crosses a touchline, it is thrown back in by a fielder of the team that didn't touch it last. If it crosses a goal line last touched by the offensive team (the team trying to score in the goal on that line), the defense is given a "goal kick"; if the defending team last touched it, the offense is awarded a "corner kick".
The rules generally permit "incidental contact" made in an attempt to play the ball; violent, avoidable bodily collisions or strikes made by one player against an opponent with any body part are penalized as "fouls". Fouls are categorized using "cards"; a player committing a minor or unintentional foul is typically not carded. Multiple non-carded fouls, an aggressive or injurious foul, or an action taken with the primary intent to interfere with the player, can result in the offending player being shown a "yellow card" and a "booking", which is a warning. Fouls resulting in two yellow cards shown to the same player, or any instance of fisticuffs, deliberate attempt to cause injury, abuse of officials or similar actions in violation of the spirit of the game, result in a "red card"; the player is removed from the game and his team must play a man short.
In any case of a foul, carded or not, a free kick is awarded to the non-offending team from the spot of the foul, with no opposing player allowed to be within 10 yards of the kick, and if the foul was committed by the defending team within their own penalty box, the kick becomes a penalty kick; the ball is placed on the penalty spot (12 yards from the goal line and equidistant to both goalposts) and kicked by one player, with only that player and the opposing goalkeeper allowed to be within the penalty box during the kick.
A common rules violation (not a foul) is playing the ball "off-sides", also known as "onrushing". The spirit of the rule is that a team attempting to score must get the ball past the last two defenders without passing it to a teammate, and may not "pin" defenders close to their goal simply by keeping a man close to it who can receive a long pass from across the field. The rule as typically enforced is that a player is off-side when they are on the half of the field containing their opponent's goal, and fewer than two defenders are closer than the player to that side's goal line. A player may be offside with no penalty, but may not "actively participate in play" (typically receiving a pass from another player or being within a certain distance of the ball). If this occurs, play is stopped and the defending team receives a free kick from the spot where the ball was illegally played. Offsides does not apply during corner kicks and in certain other scenarios.
Most games can end in a tie or draw, even a scoreless draw, and so the ranking of teams in a league or group is based on a point system defined by the league, where points are awarded in overall standings based on winning a game, shutting out an opponent and scoring at least one goal. Ties in point totals between teams in these formats are typically broken by total wins, followed by total goals scored, total goals allowed, and penalty cards assessed.
In games that cannot end in a tie, such as in single-elimination tournament structures, a 15-minute block of extra time may be played. There is typically no "sudden death" in professional association football; any extra time is played completely, and a goal scored in extra time does not end the game immediately. If the game is still tied or as a substitute for extra time, the players proceed to a series of penalty kicks sometimes called a shootout; one by one, alternating teams, five players from each team each get one penalty kick against the opposing goalkeeper. If, after five tries by each team, the game is still tied, the next scoring penalty kick combined with a miss by the opposing team on the same kick wins the game.
Association football is played at virtually every age and skill level, with youth leagues beginning as young as three in the United States. Scholastic leagues typically begin at the middle school level (around age 12-13) and extend through high school and college, then to semi-professional and professional teams at the regional, national and international levels.
The game is governed at virtually all levels by the *Federation Internationale de Football Association" or FIFA. FIFA oversees six continental "confederations", in Europe (UEFA), North/Central America (CONCACAF), South America (CONMEBOL), Asia (AFC), Africa (CAF) and Oceania (OFC), each of which in turn oversees the national teams and club leagues of their member states (including the popular German Bundesliga, English Premiere League, Spanish La Liga, Mexican Liga MX, and Italian Serie A). FIFA, in fact, has more member nations than the UN. Players in UEFA leagues are some of the highest-paid athletes in the world, and they and their WAGs (wives and girlfriends) are closely followed by European media, much as American football and basketball players and families are in the U.S.
The game is not as popular with spectators in the U.S. as in other regions; the men's Major League Soccer or MLS ranks behind the other four major professional sports leagues in television viewership as well as collegiate football and basketball (all of which have lucrative television contracts with U.S. media outlets, which MLS lacks), although it recently passed the NBA for third in average live attendance per game.
The women's game, on the other hand, is more popular in the U.S., owing to the U.S. Women's National Team's dominance in the sport since the U.S. entered CONCACAF in 1991. The team has won three FIFA Women's World Cups (and has never finished outside the top three), four Olympic Gold medals and one Silver (never failing to medal), and has won every CONCACAF women's championship they have participated in (they declined to participate in 1998, as they were hosts and automatic qualifiers for the following 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup). The team has produced many household names such as Mia Hamm, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.
When the question is about a particular football competition, don't forget to include its tag:
- world-cup for FIFA World Cup
- euro for UEFA European Championship
- copa-america for CONMEBOL Copa América
- champions-league for UEFA Champion League
- europa-league for UEFA Europa League
- copa-libertadores for CONMEBOL Libertadores
- english-premier-league for English Premier League
- la-liga for Spanish Primeira Division
- bundesliga for German Bundesliga
- serie-a for Italian Serie A
- mls for Major League Soccer of the US and Canada
When the question is about the governing bodies in football, don't forget to include their tags:
Don't use this tag in combination with the american-football tag. This will make both tags contaminated.