Offside: Defender Off the Field
By now, many of you have seen and/or heard about the controversial goal in the Holland vs. Italy match in Euro 2008 this past week. Despite its controversy, the referee team was correct in allowing the goal and in their interpretation of Law 11, Offside. Below, we will review the decision and explain why many announcers were doing the game a disservice by providing incorrect information to the fans.
• The Situation
During a free kick by the Dutch team, the Italian goalkeeper pushes his own defender out of the way and off the field, where the defender and a Dutch attacker are both down. The Dutch attacker rises quickly and returns to the field. The Italian defender remains off the field. The ball is played away from the goal and is kicked back to a Dutch player who has the Italian goalkeeper between himself and the goal line and the Italian defender lying on the ground outside the field.  The ball is crossed and redirected into the goal by the attacker.
Video Clip 5:  Holland vs. Italy (25:17)
Review the video clip and ensure you clearly see the situation as it develops. At the end of the clip, there is a better graphical display of the position of the players. Then, ask yourself the question that follows below.
• The Question
Should the Dutch attacker who scored the goal have been called offside? He had only one opponent between himself and the goal line. There was an opponent lying on the ground just across the goal line.
• Clarification
If a defending player deliberately steps behind his own goal line in order to place an opponent in an offside position, the referee shall allow play to continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission when the ball is next out of play. That did not happen in this situation.
However, in this case the defender left the field of play as a result of being pushed aside by his goalkeeper. Players in either of these situations – whether they left the field during the course of play or stepped off to place an opponent in an offside position – are considered to be part of the game and thus accountable when determining offside position by their opponents. The only difference is how these players would be treated from a disciplinary point of view (no yellow card was warranted in this case).
• Summary
There were two Italian defenders to be calculated into the equation, the goalkeeper and the player on the ground just outside the goal line. The referee’s interpretation that the player off the field of play was still involved in the game was correct.
If this interpretation did not exist, then defending players would use the tactic of deliberately stepping off the field of play to put their opponents in an offside position and that is both unacceptable and counter to the Spirit of the Laws of the Game. Unless a player has the permission of the referee to be off the field (in the case of an injury), they are considered to be on it, involved in active play, and deemed to be part of the game.
The Law was applied correctly and the Dutch attacker was not in an offside position when his teammate passed the ball. Hence, the referee was correct in allowing the goal to be scored.
The situation above raises many related questions regarding offside and defending players leaving the field. The following examines a few of these common questions and scenarios.
• Different Scenarios
1. The Italian defender left the field deliberately to place the Dutch attacker in an offside position
Play would continue and the defender would be cautioned at the next stoppage of play for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission.
Video Clip 6:  Colorado at Kansas City – 2001
This video clip provides a visual example of scenario 1 above in which a defender deliberately attempts to leave the field of play to place an opponent in an offside position. In this case, the defender would not be cautioned because he is not all the way off the field at the time the ball is played by the attacker. If he were fully off the field at the time of the initial shot/pass to goal, the referee would be required to caution the defender for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission. For further explanation of the events in this clip, referee to U.S. Soccer’s August 23, 2001 position paper entitled, “Offside and Misconduct by a Defender.” < (Click on the link to access the paper) 2. The Dutch attacker pushed the Italian defender thereby forcing him off the field of play
Play would be stopped for the foul committed by the Dutch attacker against the Italian defender.  The restart would be a direct free kick for the defending team from the place of the infringement, keeping in mind the special circumstances involving offenses within the goal area.
3. While off the field of play, the Dutch attacker, as he was getting up after having fallen, held down the Italian defender
Play would be stopped; the Dutch attacker would be cautioned for unsporting behavior and the game would be restarted with a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped.
4. While off the field of play, the Italian defender held down the Dutch attacker
The referee would invoke the advantage and play would continue. At the next stoppage the referee would caution the Italian attacker for unsporting behavior.
5. The Italian defender is clearly injured and off the field of play
The referee makes a decision that the defender is seriously injured and cannot return to play by himself. Once the referee has acknowledged the seriousness of the injury, the player may not participate in the play and must not be considered to be in active play (at this point, he would not be considered in determining offside position and should not be considered in the equation as either the first or second last opponent). For purposes of Law 11, the defender is considered to be on the goal line for calculating offside position. This player, however, may not return to play without the referee’s permission. Remember, the referee is instructed in Law 5 to stop the game only for serious injury.
• Other References
U.S. Soccer has published “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” Within this publication, refer to sections: 11.8, 11.9, 11.10, and 11.11.

The entire item, including URLs for the two video clips, can be found at…


Today I was refereeing a recreational game. There was a throw-in where the thrower essentiall spiked the ball hard just inside the field of play (it bounce 20 feet up).
There was no player near by, however, I called an incorrect throw. Of course the Coaches complained.

The basis for my call was the guidance in the USSF “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”, section 15.3. However, at half-time, I looked again at the Rules of the Game booklet. It is silent on the spiking of the ball. With no mention in the Laws Booklet, I am inclined to not make such a call in the future.

Please Clarify whether spiking is really ever grounds for ‘improper throw-in’, and if so, why and under what circumstances.

USSF answer (June 10, 2008):
While the act spiking the ball is not mentioned in the Laws of the Game, it is traditionally forbidden because putting the ball in that manner is disrespectful of the Game and of the opponents. It attracts attention to the player and brings the game into disrepute.…


I was watching the Euro Cup 2008 qualifier between Italy and The Netherlands. The first goal generated some controversy.

During a free kick, the keeper pushed a defender beyond the goal line. The Dutch recovered the deflected ball and put it back into the box to where Van Nistlerooy directs the ball into the goal. Based on the players on the field, he was clearly in an offside position but the flag was not raised.

My question is whether or not the defensive player that was on the ground beyond the goal line should have been counted as the last defender, meaning the attacking player was not offside, even though he was not within the boundaries of the field? Or is the fact that he did not come back into play prior to the goal means that he is not an active player and the call should have been that the attacking player was offside?

USSF answer (June 10, 2008):
You seem to have a grasp on the problem, which is actually not a problem at all — no matter what the TV announcers may have suggested.

This information in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” should give you all the additional information you need:

A defender who leaves the field during the course of play and does not immediately return must still be considered in determining where the second to last defender is for the purpose of judging which attackers are in an offside position. Such a defender is considered to be on the touch line or goal line closest to his or her off-field position. A defender who leaves the field with the referee’s permission (and who thus requires the referee’s permission to return) is not included in determining offside position.

This release from UEFA arrived after our answer was published:

UEFA has emphasised that the goal scored by Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy in last night’s UEFA EURO 2008˙ match against Italy in Berne was valid, and that referee Peter Fröjdfeldt acted correctly in awarding the goal.

Not offside
UEFA General Secretary David Taylor was reacting to claims from some quarters that Van Nistelrooy was standing in an offside position when he scored the first of the Netherlands ‘ goals in their 3-0 win. “I would like to take the opportunity to explain and emphasise that the goal was correctly awarded by the referee team,” he said. “I think there’s a lack of understanding among the general football public, and I think it’s understandable because this was an unusual situation. The player was not offside, because, in addition to the Italian goalkeeper, there was another Italian player in front of the goalscorer. Even though that other Italian player at the time had actually fallen off the pitch, his position was still relevant for the purposes of the offside law.”

Still involved
The starting point, said Mr Taylor, is the Laws of the Game ˆ Law 11 ˆ which deals with offside, and whereby a player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponents’ goalline than both the ball and the second last opponent. “There need to be two defenders involved,” the UEFA General Secretary said. “If you think back to the situation, the first is the goalkeeper, and the second is the defender who, because of his momentum, actually had left the field of play. But this defender was still deemed to be part of the game. Therefore he is taken into consideration as one of the last two opponents. As a result, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was not nearer to the opponents’ goal than the second last defender and, therefore, could not be in an offside position.

Rare incident
“This is a widely-known interpretation of the offside law amongst referees that is not generally known by the wider football public,” he continued. “Incidents like this are very unusual ˆ although I’m informed that there was an incident like this about a month ago in a Swiss Super League match between FC Sion and FC Basel 1893. [It was] initially suggested that this [goal] was a mistake by the referee in terms of the offside law ˆ the commentator later apologised publicly, as he didn’t realise that this was the correct application of the law. ”

Law applied
Mr Taylor concluded: “So let’s be clear ˆ the referees’ team applied the law in the correct manner.

If we did not have this interpretation of the player being off the pitch, then what could happen is that the defending team could use the tactic of stepping off the pitch deliberately to play players offside, and that clearly is unacceptable. The most simple and practical interpretation of the law in this instance is the one that is adopted by referees throughout the world ˆ that is that unless you have permission from the referee to be off the pitch, you are deemed to be on it and deemed to be part of the game. That is why the Italian defender, even though his momentum had taken him off the pitch, was still deemed to be part of the game, and therefore the attacking player put the ball into the net, and it was a valid goal. The law in this place was applied absolutely correctly.”


The 2007 ATR is quite specific that a tap on top of the the ball, stepping on the ball, or dragging of the ball does not count as the first touch for an indirect free kick – the ball must be touched in a kicking motion. So far this season I have refereed mover 50 games and have talked to thirty or more referees. Not one coach, or even one referee has been aware of this ATR. I have taken the tack this season to inform both teams during equipment check that I would be following the ATR and then giving the coach a copy, so that they would know where I was getting my information from. I have had now problems. However, this does require a little “speech” to the players, a luxury one does not always get.

At the recent [local] tournament I had the opportunity to talk to several level 5 referees about this ruling – they were unanimous in telling me that you don’t tell teams about this ruling and you certainly don’t follow it – if you disallowed a goal because the only touches were a tap on top of the ball and a kick that put the ball in the goal you wouldn’t make it off the field in one piece.

I’m now in a quandry – do I follow the ruling – if so, do I tell the teams before the game. Imagine this situation – League tournament finals, score tied, one minute to go, defender makes a high kick – IDFK just outside, or inside, the penalty area. Kicking team lines up four players who run at the ball in turn. The first player jumps over the ball, the second player taps the top of the ball, the third player kicks it, loops it over the wall tough play for the keeper. The keeper, following the ATR, knows that a goal cannot be scored, and not risking touching the ball, backs away from the ball and lets it go untouched into the goal. What’s my call? Do I follow the ATR and signal for a goal kick, following a ruling that NOBODY else in the stadium knows, risking major mayhem, or do I make the easy call – GOAL penalizing the goalie for knowing the rules?

That raises a second question – why isn’t a ruling that makes such a fundamental change in how what can be a critical play is judged, better advertised?

USSF answer (June 3, 2008):
It is not surprising that many State-level referees, no matter which state they come from, do not follow the instructions in the Advice to Referees. We find this to be the case throughout the United States, because so many “senior” referees and assessors seem to know more than the Federation about how games should be refereed.

No matter what your colleagues may tell you about what is in the Advice to Referees, it is the interpretation of the U. S. Soccer Federation and should be followed by all referees, assessors, and instructors. Anyone who troubles to read the introduction will find that the Advice is intended to be read by referees, instructors, assessors, players, coaches, parents, and anyone else wants to know what to expect from the officials in a game.

Section 13.5 of the Advice has been changed for 2008, but only “gently.” It now reads:

The ball is in play (able to be played by an attacker other than the kicker or by an opponent) when it has been kicked and moved. The distance to be moved is minimal and the “kick” need only be a touch of the ball with the foot in a kicking motion. Simply tapping the top of the ball with the foot or stepping on the ball are not sufficient.

When the restart of play is based on the ball being kicked and moved, the referee must ensure that the ball is indeed kicked (touched with the foot in a kicking motion) and moved (caused to go from one place to another). Being “kicked” can include an action in which the ball is dragged by continuous contact with the foot.  The referee must make the final decision on what is and is not “kicked and moved” based on the spirit and flow of the match.

The referee must judge carefully whether any particular kick of the ball and subsequent movement was indeed reasonably taken with the intention of putting the ball into play rather than with the intention merely to position the ball for the restart. If the ball is just being repositioned (even if the foot is used to do this), play has not been restarted. Likewise, referees should not unfairly punish for “failing to respect the required distance” when an opponent was clearly confused by a touch and movement of the ball which was not a restart.

The referee must make the final decision on what is a “kick” and what is “not a kick” based on his or her feeling for the game-what FIFA calls “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally: “sensing with one’s fingertips”).

The intelligent referee will do at least two things here:
1. Recognize the situation for what it is and deal with it correctly.
2. Not to explain all this to players or coaches or spectators either before the match or at the time of the first indirect free kick (which is the only situation where the distinction is important).

We continue to emphasize to new referees that, for example, the “captains talk” (the coin toss) is not the time to lecture on the Law.…


Can you please clarify in Advice to Referees latest edition section 3.12 it advises: Under no circumstances team requires to equate in case it’s player is injured or ejected due to misconduct.

What need clarification is that it is only after the kicks from penalty mark started. In addition it says that even if there is one player only left, kicks continue while it should probably says two due to Goal Keeper. This came in a latest state written test

I have another question in regards to the taking of kicks from the penalty mark to decide a match. What is the rule if a player is ejected (or injured) when game ended but prior to first player taking the kick? thanks

USSF answer (May 14, 2008):
For everyone’s benefit, here is what Advice 3.12 says:

Only the players who were on the field at the end of the game (or temporarily off the field for treatment of injury or repair of equipment) may participate in kicks from the penalty mark. The kicks from the mark phase of the match begins at the moment regulation play ends (including any overtime periods of play.) All players who are not injured must take a kick before anyone on the same team takes a second kick. Only the goalkeeper may be substituted in the case of injury during the kicks phase and only if the team has a substitution remaining from its permitted maximum. If a player is removed from the field for misconduct or is unable to participate in the taking of kicks due to an injury, the contest continues without him or her.  Under no circumstances will a team be required to “reduce to equate” if the opposing team loses one or more players due to misconduct or injury. Although Law 3 requires that a match may not be started with fewer than seven players on each side, this does not apply to the taking of kicks from the penalty mark. If one of the teams is able to field only five or six players for the kicks, the taking of kicks may begin, and it may continue as long as there is one player left. Until a result is produced, both teams must continue to use their eligible players without duplication until all (including the goalkeeper) have kicked, at which time players who have already kicked may kick again. If one team has fewer players than the other, it will need to begin using again its players who have already kicked sooner than will the opposing team.
Note: It is not necessary for players to kick in the same order if a second round of kicks is required. (See also Advice 19.1 and 19.2.)

The process of kicks from the penalty mark (KFTPM) begins as soon as the referee has ended the final period of play. That is the only time that the reduce to equate principle comes into play: If one team has more eligible players at that moment, it must reduce its number of eligible players to match that of the other team. Once the beginning number of players/kickers for the kicks If a team loses a player through injury (other than the goalkeeper, see 3.12) or dismissal during the KFTPM, the opposing team does not have to reduce its numbers.

The reason that the number of players can drop to only one, if that becomes necessary through injury or dismissal, is that the normal minimum number of players does not apply during the KFTPM. Although it may seem strange, if there is only one player remaining, he or she can kick and then act as goalkeeper when the other team kicks. The player would not be performing both tasks at the same time. (And this is almost surely simply a theoretical thing, as no players would want their team down to only one player in this crucial situation.) The only difference in the KFTPM process would be that, while kicking, the kicker could not stand in the usual place for the goalkeeper during the KFTPM by other members of his/her team.

If a player is dismissed after the end of the game, but before the kicks actually begin, that player’s team will have one less player during the KFTPM. The other team does not have to reduce its numbers.…