During a U16 game, I was center and had a team that was two goals behind. The team behind scored and the defensive player from the winning team (2 goals) was taking the ball out of the goal when the player that scored (1 goal) — tried to grab the ball out of the hands of the player. Both were trying to get the ball to the center, the offensive player, in my opinion “felt” the defensive player was not fast enough. So — a pulling match began. I was close enough to control the issue and give both a “yellow” card for Delays the Restart of Play (DR), I thought both were in the wrong, even if the one player initiated. After the match, the coach from the winning team (defensive player) argued that the offensive payer cannot touch the ball after a goal and I should not have given a “yellow” to his player. Was his statement correct about who can touch the ball after a goal and was I incorrect to give the “yellow” to his player?

USSF answer (May 8, 2008):
After the referee has stopped play for a goal, the ball, although “dead” until play is restarted with a kick-off, does belong to the team against which the goal was scored. Traditionally the ball is carried back to the center spot by the team against which the goal was scored (Team A). A player who provokes confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play may be cautioned for delaying the restart of play. (See the Additional Instructions and Guidelines for Referees in the back of the Laws of the Game 2007/2008.) This would be the case of the player from the scoring team (B) who was interfering with the Team A player carrying the ball to the center of the field.

The team which has possession (A) may “allow” the opposing team to hold/transfer/carry/etc. the ball by acceding to the action (i. e., not disputing it). However, the opposing team does this at its peril. In your game, Team B, perhaps believing that A was moving too slowly to carry the ball back to the center circle for the kick-off, tried to take the ball that “belonged” to Team A. Team B has no right at any time to request that the ball be given over to it (including such childish behavior as attempting to grab the ball or punch the ball out of the Team A player’s control.

Rather than immediately cautioning either player, the true owner (against whose team the goal was scored) and the “wannabe” owner (whose team will be defending at the kick-off), it would be better if you simply spoke quickly to both players, admonishing the wannabe owner to leave the ball alone. You could also tell the player that you will judge whether there is any “delay” in getting the ball back to the center spot and will, if necessary, add time to make up for any time lost.

There is little reason to immediately caution either player if you do what we suggest above. In any event, the possibility of a caution would depend on HOW the defender attempts to gain possession (i. e., how aggressively, how prolonged, etc.). We cannot see how the mere fact of attempting to gain possession is itself cautionable.

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