Goalkeepers and “Challenging for the Ball”

Steve, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

In open play, goalkeeper saves the ball in his area. To restart play does the ball have to go outside the area or can the keeper roll it to one of his defenders who is inside the area so he can dribble up field taking the ball out of the area?

Answer

Let’s clear out some underbrush in this scenario before getting to the central issue of your question.  There is an important distinction in the Laws of the Game between taking a ball out of play and taking a ball out of challenge.  The simplest way to take a ball out of play is to kick the ball off the field — the ball is automatically out of play the moment it entirely crosses the field’s outer perimeter lines (touch line or goal line, including the part of the latter which is between the goal posts).  Players can also take the ball out of play by becoming injured or committing an offense, for either of which the referee stops play.  Finally, the referee can take the ball out of play simply by whistling for a stoppage for any reason (weather, outside interference, or any other reason).  Obviously, if a ball goes out of play, it means that no one can play it until there is a formal restart (unless the stoppage is when the final period runs out of time).

This is completely (and importantly) different from taking the ball out of challenge.  This is the chief difference between a goalkeeper and any other player on the team because only the goalkeeper can do this but they can only do it within their own penalty area (anywhere in that area) and only by taking hand possession of the ball.  “Out of challenge” means that, from the moment the goalkeeper takes hand control of the ball until the ball is fully released from hand control, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper for the ball!  The ball is still “in play” during this whole time, but an opponent cannot attempt to tackle, charge, or otherwise challenge for the ball.

Having “hand control of the ball” is operationally defined as the goalkeeper holding the ball with a hand (including having the ball resting on the hand, usually but not necessarily on the palm) or between both hands or between one or both hands against a surface (the ground, the body, a goal post, etc.).  Once hand control is achieved (in the opinion of the referee), all challenges must cease.  Period.  Any attempt to challenge could result in the referee stopping play, issuing a caution, and restarting with an indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.  Referees understand that, in general, goalkeepers prefer for this not to happen,  They are, at heart, egotists who firmly believe they are far more capable of getting rid of the ball their own way and for their own purposes than via an indirect free kick and so referees understand that (a) they should try to prevent interference from occurring in the first place and (b), if it is so blatant as to be unavoidable, the added punishment of a caution should be given.

The interesting part of all this groundwork is determining what constitutes releasing the ball back into challenge.  Basically, it means getting rid of it — throwing it, kicking it (punt, dropkick, etc.), or setting it on the ground and kicking it.  The Law allows the ball to be tossed up in the air and then to catch it or to bounce it on the ground and catch it, all without losing hand control (tossing it up, allowing it to hit the ground, and then catching it on the rebound, however, is a second possession offense — don’t do this, goalkeepers, just kick the ball on the rebound).  All of these actions are considered part of “releasing the ball into play” and are as protected from challenge or interference as is simply holding the ball.

OK.  That’s the groundwork.  Now to your scenario, which basically has nothing to do with everything we just talked about.  You asked about “restart play” and now we know that play never stopped in the first place!  What stopped was the ability of an opponent to do what he or she would normally do while the ball was in play — challenge for it.   Accordingly, there is no restart issue here.  There are special things to remember about restarts from within a team’s own penalty area and the issues you raised involve that, none of which are relevant to how a goalkeeper puts a ball back into challenge.  Most players, coaches, and spectators (plus many well-paid commentators) commonly call this “putting the ball back into play” but this is incorrect.  Referees know that this is “putting the ball back into challenge” because the difference is crucial.  Except for leaving the field or the referee stopping play or time ending, the ball is always in play.

Interfering with the Goalkeeper

Michael, an adult amateur player, asks:

When a goalkeeper has the ball in his hands and goes to kick it down field, can an opposing striker block the ball? Especially if they are outside the box?

Answer

Your scenario is a bit unclear.  If by “they” you mean both the goalkeeper and the striker and if by “outside the box” you mean outside the penalty area(as opposed to the goal area), then the solution is easy — the goalkeeper is committing a handling offense and this takes priority.  We suspect, however,  you meant that only the striker was “out of the box,” in which case it doesn’t matter which “box” you meant.

As long as the goalkeeper has hand control of the ball, including when he is in the process of releasing it (i.e., throwing or kicking the ball), no opponent can interfere with the release or challenge for the ball.  Sometimes, opponents make it easy for you by looking at the goalkeeper and obviously moving closer or moving around to block the direction that the goalkeeper apparently is considering in which to release the ball.  Once the ball is released, however, the ability to challenge for control of the ball returns.

This is very clear and easy to enforce in the static situation where the goalkeeper is clearly holding the ball but becomes murkier during the actual release of the ball.  The general principle is that an opponent cannot be allowed to be close enough to the goalkeeper to interfere with the release.  How far back is that?  It’s in your opinion.  That opinion should take into account whether the opponent has merely established a location which does not block the direction of the release … and stays there.  Sometimes, an opponent makes it easy for you by actually moving around to interfere while the goalkeeper is attempting to move in response to find a clear release direction.  And it becomes ridiculously easy if the opponent runs into an area which is the direction of release while the release is taking place.  The referee should handle these situations proactively (before any interference could occur) by warning an opponent to back away and to stay out of the way.  If you have done so and the opponent ignores your warning or if events happened so quickly that there was no time to give the warning in the first place and the interference occurs, this is a cautionable offense – whistle, show a yellow card to the opponent, and order an indirect free kick restart from where the interference occurred.

Keep in mind that experienced goalkeepers generally prefer to perform their own release rather than to have that changed to an indirect free kick so choose your options carefully and step in only when the potential interference is blatant and/or when the players are inexperienced and/or when you have warned the opponent but the opponent interferes anyway (the caution is for unsporting behavior but ignoring an actual warning from you adds an icing of dissent).

Remember that the issue is not limited to “how far back.”  Where the opponent is in relation to the direction of the release is just as important.  There is no specific distance offered in the Laws of the Game as is the case for example with retreating at least ten yards for a free kick.   Here, the decision is solely “in the opinion of the referee.”  As the International Board (IFAB) put it in this year’s edition of the Laws of the Game:

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would football want/expect?”

Dismissing a Team Official

Gareth, a U-13 – U19 player, asks:

What happens if a coach has been ejected and asked to leave the field of play but does not go far enough to be out of sight and sound? If the same person returns to the field after regulation time to instruct players, what is the next action to be taken?

Answer

First, if a team official (e.g., coach) has been dismissed from the field, the game should not be restarted until and unless the referee is satisfied that the dismissed team official is in fact “out of sight and sound.”

Second, if a dismissed team official reappears in “sight and sound” at any time prior to the end of the match, play should be stopped again, the team official removed again, and the match only then restarted.  Although not a “rule” regarding team official dismissal, we would recommend terminating the match if the dismissed team official reappears a second time.  The reappearance should be included in the match report.

Third, depending on the local rules, the formal dismissal lasts only until after the game is over.  Once it is over, the referee’s authority over the dismissed person ends but, even after the match ends and while the referee is still in the area of the field, any further irresponsible behavior from the same person should be included in the game report.

A DOGSO Scenario Question (REVISED Again)

Robert, an adult amateur player, asks:

A striker positions himself to make a shot on goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, in an obvious scoring opportunity. The goalkeeper shouts to startle him and causes the striker to fluff his kick.

Is the correct approach: 1) yellow card for keeper and indirect free kick, 2) red card and penalty, or 3) no action?

Answer

A reader has brought to our attention that the International Board has resolved the above question in its new FAQs (found only at the end of each Law separately listed on the IFAB website — these FAQs are not to be found in the downloadable document itself and appeared only at the end of May 2018).  What follows is our revised reply to the above question.  Our apologies for any confusion the original answer might have caused.  And then … another reader brought our inattention to our attention, hence the second update.  We hope this is the last. Only the final sentence needed correcting.

A very interesting question, Robert, one which has been affected by recent Law changes.  The relevant Law elements are as follows.  First, the goalkeeper’s action of shouting to distract is and always has been included in the general category of “unsporting misconduct.”  Second, though a misconduct, the goalkeeper’s action is still termed “an offense.”  Third, no direct free kick offense was committed.  Fourth, both the description of the scenario and the scenario itself declare that this was an “obvious goal-scoring opportunity” — also commonly referred to as a “DOGSO.”  It is the fourth fact that is the key to the problem here.

Prior to 2016-2017, Law 12 only required that the restart be a free kick or penalty kick, which would clearly have included an offense resulting in either a direct or an indirect free kick.  The International Board’s modifications to Law 12  over the last several years were mainly intended to lighten what was called the “triple penalty” stemming from the commission of a DOGSO offense (i.e., the penalty kick itself plus the send-off plus the attendant minimum one-game suspension that followed). To do so, it created a distinction between cautionable DOGSOs and send-off DOGSOs.

As Law 12 now stands, there are still two basic DOGSO scenarios, one of which involves illegal handling and the other involves any offense other than handling.  An illegal handling that prevents a goal will always result in a direct free kick (or a penalty kick) and a red card no matter where in the field the handling occurs (a caution is appropriate if the illegal handling does not prevent the goal). However, in the process of outlining when a caution is a correct response, Law 12 specifies that the caution is applicable where (among other things) the offense results in a penalty kick and this, in turn, is possible only when the offense is a direct free kick foul occurring inside the defending team’s penalty area.

However, in the Board’s Law 12 FAQ 12, the point is made that, since an indirect free kick restart does not, in effect, restore the goal-scoring opportunity that was denied by the OGSO, the defender must still be given a red card even though the restart would be an indirect free kick.  In FAQ 11, the Board resolved another issue in stating that a DOGSO offense must result in a red card even if the offense occurred outside the penalty area and would not otherwise have been cautionable but for the DOGSO.

Accordingly, the answer to your question is that none of the options is correct.  Add “4) red card and indirect free kick” to the options list in order to get one that is required by Law 12 and Law 12’s FAQ 12.

Goalkeeper Handling (or Not)

Christopher, an adult amateur player, asks:

The goalkeeper received the ball at his feet outside of the penalty box from an opposing player. Goalkeeper dribbles into penalty box, then dribbles outside penalty box, dribbles back inside penalty box and handles the ball. Referee awarded indirect free kick for handling. Correct?

Answer

We love these easy ones.  No.

OK, you would probably like an explanation.  As described, the goalkeeper’s running around into, out of, and then back into the penalty area is irrelevant.  We are mystified as to the indirect free kick restart because (a) it was not handling and, (b) if it had been, the restart would have been a direct free kick, not an indirect free kick.  The only time the goalkeeper could have committed a handling offense is if he picked up the ball when he was outside his penalty area.

On the other hand (but the answer is still No), perhaps the indirect free kick was not for handling but for a so-called “pass-back” violation.  Unfortunately, this also fails the “look to the Law” test because the goalkeeper’s handling was not directly from a deliberate kick from a teammate — it was from an opponent.  Note that it would have been an indirect free kick for a pass-back violation even though the goalkeeper played around dribbling the ball back and forth inside and outside the penalty area if it had come from a teammate because “directly” in soccer terminology means no one else touched/played the ball prior to the goalkeeper and so the goalkeeper would in fact have handled a ball, despite all that dribbling around, directly from the teammate.

So, we have an error in applying the Laws of the Game no matter how the scenario is interpreted.  If the ball had come from an opponent, it would have been an indirect free kick, but it didn’t come from  a teammate.  If the goalkeeper had handled the ball while he was dribbling about outside the penalty area, it would have been a handling offense but not an indirect free kick restart … and his handling of the ball occurred inside the penalty area so it can’t have been a handling offense.

What Are the Big Boys Doing?

Mike, an adult pro fan, asks:

Misconduct, feigning an injury.  We all watch higher level soccer, pro, world cup, etc.  Like most sports, rules, play, calls, behavior, etc begin at these levels and filter down.  I cannot believe how many times a player at the higher level writhes on the ground after any contact, then stays in the game as if nothing happened.  To me, this is wrong for so many reasons, (time, momentum, working the referee for a call-dissent, and assuredly in most cases misconduct).  Yet you rarely see a card given.  I know this is a very subjective area but it is getting out of hand and negatively affecting the game.  Also seeing more of it at HS and older club ages.

Answer

We don’t normally publish replies to queries that apparently don’t directly involve a question but we are going to make an exception in this case because what you are describing is a common gripe among Referees.

The game changes as the competitive level changes.  We have officiated up to the semi-pro level, plus we have numerous friends and acquaintances who have gone even higher, so we can relate to your frustrations.  We have felt them also at times.

Yes, the “demonstration effect” can get very bothersome.  When refereeing at a lower level and seeing a player trying something out that we’re sure he or she picked up watching WC games, or MLS games, or adult amateur games, or NCAA  games, etc., it’s easy to think that our refereeing life down here would be so much easier if those referees “up there” just called the game “the way they should” and not provide bad examples of player behavior to go publicly unpunished.  All this does is give younger players the notion that such behavior is acceptable … so why not do it themselves?  And they either get away with it or, worse, get called for it because the Referee is an idiot and doesn’t understand how the game is played.  After all, the WC referee let it go.  QED.

The point, though, is that if Referee A were to officiate, say, an MLS match the way Referee B would referee a U16 game, Referee A would be doing the MLS players a disservice — just like Referee B would be doing the U16 players a disservice if Referee B officiated them the way Referee A would an MLS match.

You might express shock at this and say, for example, “but the offenses are the same, shouldn’t they be treated the same?”  And the answer is that, with some exceptions, the offenses may be the same but how you handle them can differ greatly.  The games are different, the players are different, the incentives are different, and the entertainment aspects are different.  In an MLS match, for example, there might be “writhing on the ground” and some of it may be a serious attempt to gain a beneficial but unearned call from a distracted Referee, while at other times it’s merely for show and all parties know it and act accordingly.  A caution for such simulation or fakery is unnecessary because no benefit was gained and no participant (player or referee) was fooled.  What the casual observer is missing is the brief eye contact, the Referee smirk, and a silently mouthed “not this time.”

This is one of the sorts of things that a Referee learns as his or her assignments transition from one competitive level to another.  These things change over time as the sport changes and the contexts in which the sport is played change.  Go back, say, 50 years to the early days of US professional soccer and realize that it hung by a thread for a long time.  Spectators (ticket-buyers) and sponsors (ad-buyers) were desperately needed.  There were some premier European and Latin American players who could see the light at the end of their professional tunnels and were interested in coming to the US for significant salaries.  Were they “protected” by the referees so that spectators wouldn’t lose the opportunity to see the players (and the plays) that made attending a game an “event”?  Is it the same today?  No.

At the same time, referee training in this country (which is all we can confidently speak about, as opposed to what happens elsewhere) follows the same pattern.  The higher the level of the match, the more the emphasis is on “managing the game” rather than whistling for all the fouls, offenses, mistakes, blow-ups, etc. that might be called.  We assume, as a referee approaches this competitive level, that the fundamentals have been well learned – the referee recognizes what the players have done, what they are doing, and what they are attempting to achieve, and the objective is to let them do their job within certain acceptable bounds of safety, fairness, and the enjoyment of all.  Does that sometimes make the job of officiating a local recreational U16 or weekend adult amateur match difficult when the players are trying out things they learned from “the big boys”?

Yes.

Slide Tackles

Mike, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Can a keeper slide tackle an attacking player? More specifically can the keeper execute a slide tackle that is directly at the attacking player which causes a head-on collision? We play in two upper midwestern states primarily and just lost one of our best players to a knee injury because the keeper from another team performed a slide tackle in the box as she was coming straight at the keeper. I believe the keeper did get the ball first, but to me this comes in the area of dangerous play and should have had a PK awarded with a possible card given to the keeper.

Answer

This is a tough one to answer so please keep this in mind as we try to clarify certain things of which parents and other spectators are often unaware.  Apart from what follows, we’re sorry to hear of your player’s injury.

First, there is nothing in the Laws of the Game which makes a “sliding tackle” illegal.  Some leagues within some state organizations have made the sliding tackle maneuver illegal on general principles, usually forbidding its use by players under the age of (take your pick, usually 12, sometimes 14) but you need to understand that even this is itself illegal.  Technically, no soccer organization affiliated with USSF can have a playing rule that is not allowed by the Laws of the Game.

Second (ignoring the above paragraph), we train referees to understand that, although slide tackling is not illegal, it can quickly become illegal if not done correctly.  In short, there is nothing wrong with a slide tackle if it is executed perfectly.  The problem is that it is all too easy to make a mistake while performing a sliding tackle  and, as a result, the tackle not only becomes illegal but almost always seriously illegal (meaning it would also draw a red card).

Third, there is nothing about slide tackling that involves one player being allowed to do it but not another.  In short, goalkeepers can perform slide tackles just as other players can – provided it is done perfectly.

Fourth, there is no way an imperfectly performed slide tackle could be considered a “dangerous play” not only because dangerous play offenses are indirect free kick fouls but because any error in performance that would make a slide tackle illegal would involve a direct free kick/PK restart plus at least a caution if not a red card.  There is no way a “dangerous play” offense can result in a direct free kick or penalty kick.

Fifth, we are having trouble envisioning a slide tackle event, done well or done badly, which could “cause a head-on collision.”  Slide tackles, by their nature and definition are performed by using the foot (or feet) while sliding on the ground against an opponent’s foot (or feet). Unless the goalkeeper was sliding in toward the ball or an opponent head first (which is not a sliding tackle by definition), collisions can occur but not above waist level.

Sixth, it is a common misunderstanding that “getting the ball first” has something to do with a slide tackle being legal or illegal.  It doesn’t.  Not at all.  NOT getting the ball at all does and, in this case, it makes the tackle illegal.  But getting the ball first, second, third, etc. doesn’t make it legal.  In addition to there being no contact with the ball at all, other elements making the slide tackle illegal include the direction from which it is made, the speed at which the player is sliding, the height of either or both feet above ball level, and exposure of the studs.  The ultimate dangerous slide tackle is the two-footed, high speed tackle where contact is made above the ball with studs exposed!

Seventh and finally. we also train referees to understand that the probability of a slide tackle being performed legally is highly dependent on the age and experience level of the players … for a very simple reason.  Performing a legal slide tackle takes experience, training, physical coordination, good judgment, and the ability to weigh consequences.  Very few human beings below the age of 14 possess any, much less all, of these characteristics. They can be rarely found in persons below the age of 18 (one of the major reasons why auto insurance is sky-high for young drivers!).  Every slide tackle performed in a match involving players under the age of 14 should be  presumed illegal by chance alone and that presumption should be switched to “legal” only after the most careful review by the referee.

Recalcitrant Assistant Referees

John, a senior amateur Referee, asks:

Does an assistant referee have the power to ask a spectator to leave?
When the spectator won’t leave, does the assistant referee have the power to dismiss a coach?
When the coach won’t leave, does he have the power to announce the game is over?
If he then leaves, is the game over? What about if both assistant referees leave?

(Yes, this all happened – I was the center, not agreeing with anything he was doing, but with both ARs leaving, I felt I had no choice but to end the game, thus validating everything he did.)

Answer

These are difficult questions but we will try to sort out the options.

First and foremost, under current USSF guidance for referees in this country, neither the referee nor any other official has the power to ask or demand that a spectator leave.  We have no direct control of anyone who is not a player, substitute, etc., or team official.  There is a video prepared a few years back as a companion to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” guidance which is specifically aimed at spectators.  In brief, the referee (and only the referee) engages in a version of Ask/Tell with regard to a spectator but only through the coach.  In other words, if a spectator is causing a problem, we are to ask the coach to control any spectator whose behavior is unacceptable.  If the association of this spectator with one team or the other is unclear or disputed, then we engage both coaches.  The coaches must find ways to control the problem either through their own actions or  with the assistance of other spectators or, if necessary, through recourse to external authorities (e.g., a park or school employee responsible for the grounds on which the competition is being held).  At no time do we interact  directly with the offending spectator.  If one or both coaches and/or “their” spectators or the intervention of field marshals or park police do not resolve the problem, then the only remaining option is to suspend the game or terminate it altogether. Full details in the match report.  Note that at no time is an AR authorized to act on their own – apart from bringing the problem to the referee’s attention, an AR has no separate, independent authority to act here,

Of course, if the referee terminates the match (and he or she is the only one who can), then the officiating team should gather at least briefly before dispersing to make sure that the referee has sufficient information from all members of the team to complete the match report.  An AR leaving on his or own initiative is a serious breach of professional ethics – except perhaps in the case of traumatic injury.  Whether an AR or both ARs leave is not directly material as regards the continuation of the game.  After all, the assignment of ARs to a game is not mandatory – many games start and/or finish with only one or no ARs.  If such a departure occurs without the specific permission of the Referee, that is grounds for the Referee to file a complaint regarding this behavior with the assignor and/or the local referee association.

Your reference to “not agreeing with anything he [an AR] was doing” is peculiar because, at all times, the AR is under the authority of the Referee and is there expressly to assist the Referee in all matters, even if the AR disagrees with the decisions of the Referee.  If the AR’s  disagreement with your decisions is sufficient enough and/or serious enough, the AR is free to file a complaint with the assignor and/or local referee association when the game is over or to simply make it known that he/she would not wish to be assigned to work with that Referee again in the future.

Finally, games at all levels have been held for decades without ARs so there should be no need to terminate a game merely if one or both of the ARs have left.  At the same time, Law 6 specifically provides for either or both ARs to be dismissed by the Referee:

The match officials operate under the direction of the referee. In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve them of their duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.

This “solution” is and should be rare, but it does clearly confirm the Law’s assumption that the Referee carries the ultimate authority … even with regard to the other match officials.

Is There Life After a Red Card?

Anthony, a senior amateur referee, asks:

Can a player be given 2 or more red cards in one game? Let’s say a player has already been dismissed through a straight red or two yellows. Later in the game he comes off the bench and enters the field of play to join in a “fight” on the field. Can I give him a second red for VC?

Answer

No. First of all, unless the game involves players 16 years of age or younger, no sent-off player should be “on the bench.”  If you send off a player, you do not even restart play until you are satisfied that that miscreant has left the entire area of the field (we refer to this as being “out of sight, out of sound” – can’t see or hear him or her).  Further, all team officials should work together to ensure that play is stopped immediately if a sent-off player happens to reappear in the area of the field.  In some cases, a tournament or competition authority may have already designated a place where a sent-off player must go to and remain at until the match is over.  It doesn’t really matter to you because, as far as you are concerned, the operative word is “gone”!

Second, whatever the series of events that leads to a sent-off player even being able to once again interfere with the game, the Law does not allow for any such person to be shown any card of any color once the red card has been shown – whether at any time later or even if the offending behavior occurs immediately after the red card (e.g., player commits violent conduct, is sent off with a red card and, while leaving the field curses the referee).  What do you do, though, under such circumstances?  You deal with the immediate problem of insisting that play will not restart (and may never restart) unless the offender is gone and stays gone and then, when the game is over, the additional misconduct, whatever its nature, is included in the match report.  It is handled exactly the same way you would report red or yellow card behavior but it is entirely for the benefit of the game authority so that it can determine if any additional punishments are warranted.  You, of course, make no such recommendations, only report the facts of any subsequent incident and then note that, if this player had not already received a red card, this reported behavior would have resulted in a red or yellow card by itself.

Some players think “well, what can they do, I already have a red card” and the answer is that the competition authority (depending on the level of the game) can add further monetary fines or game suspensions or charge the entire team and\or its coaching staff with misconduct or even kick the team out of the league.

On the Ground

Jonathan, a HS and College coach, asks:

A defending player and an attacking player are challenging for the ball. Defending player is fairly tackled and falls on the ball. Defending player remains on top of the ball, intentionally shielding the ball. Attacking player kicks at ball, hitting defending player in the midsection and ribs repeatedly (three or four forceful kicks) until the referee blows the whistle to stop play. What foul(s) have been committed? What is the appropriate restart?

Answer

This is a grayish area.

In a dangerous play situation (which has always included scenarios in which a player is laying on the ball, or has the ball tangled on, under, or between his/her legs while on the ground),  the application of the Law depends significantly on (a) the age/experience of the players and (b) the specific sequence of events.

The simplest one is when a player covers the ball, thus preventing a safe attack by an opponent to gain possession of the ball by an opponent, but the player quickly gets up and resumes playing the ball and is thus open to being challenged legally.  No offense has occurred.

A slightly more complex situation is when the player lays on the ball and makes little or no attempt to get up but there is an opponent close enough to gain possession but deigns not to do so in the interests of the player’s safety.  If this continues for more than several seconds without any apparent good cause (e.g., the player is entirely unmoving and possibly injured, in which case play should be stopped immediately to deal with the injury), the player who is unfairly withholding the ball from challenge is called for dangerous play and play resumes with an IFK.

At the next level, a player is on the ground and is given no reasonable time to recover or to otherwise permit safe play but an opponent begins challenging dangerously — which would certainly be the case in your scenario (“hitting the defending player in the midsection and ribs repeatedly”).  The referee’s action should be swift and firm.  It should be taken upon the very first attempt to kick.  If this were done, the dangerous play offense would simply be called against the upright (but not upstanding!) opponent and an IFK for the downed player’s team would be the restart.

By not moving quickly to defuse the situation, the opponent has in fact not been discouraged from committing a direct free kick offense (kicking) which would, additionally, be deemed at least reckless (yellow) and more likely involving excessive force (red).

The younger the players, the more the application of “dangerous play” favors dealing quickly and aggressively with either the player on the ground deemed not injured to discourage any attempt by an opponent to launch an attack or the opponent who does not allow a reasonable amount of time for the player on the ground to recover before engaging in an unsafe attempt to challenge for the ball.

In your specific scenario, the player on the ground was intentionally (and therefore illegally) withholding the ball from a safe challenge.  However, the opponent also took the situation out of the Referee’s hands by not allowing sufficient time for the Referee to decide if (a) the player was injured or (b) was in fact intentionally withholding the ball from play.  The result was a series of reckless or, more likely, excessively forceful attacks on the player on the ground (which would have been just as illegal if the player hadn’t been on the ground!).  The Referee must consider the possibility that he or she had not been sufficiently “on top” of the situation to prevent either the initial dangerous play offense or the subsequent direct free kick foul and likely send-off.  The restart, of course, is the direct free kick because, when fouls are committed simultaneously, the restart is determined by the more serious offense (see Law 5.3, Disciplinary Action, 1st bullet point).