Offside and Playing the Ball

A referee asks:

Player A1 kicks the ball.  Player B1 heads the ball and it falls directly to player A2 who is standing in an offside position.  Is Player A2 offside?


Whenever we discuss anything pertaining to an offside question, it’s always useful to make sure we are speaking the same language.  Your basic question is “Is Player A2 offside?” and our first response is “What do you mean by ‘offside’?”  Law 11 uses the term to mean two related but very different things.  If by “offside” you mean “offside position,” then clearly the answer is “yes” because this is a given in your scenario but, as we all know, there is nothing illegal or immoral about being in an offside position.   Our next question therefore is “So what?”

The challenge for an offside position player is to not become involved in active play while carrying that tag.  If you do, then you have committed an “offside violation” and an offside violation involves a whole different set of issues.

If A1 had kicked the ball directly (which, in soccer, means only that there was no intervening touch or play of the ball by anyone else) to A2, we still do not necessarily have an offside violation because A2, before being whistled, needs to become involved in active play.  To say that the ball “falls … to A2” indicates nothing more than that the ball wound up from A1’s play somewhere at or near A2 and it says nothing about what A2 did about this.  Did A2 then make contact with the ball, which is at the core of “becoming involved in active play by interfering with play”?  At this point, A2 could play the ball (violation) … or A2 could make eye contact with the referee and begin backing away while shouting to his teammates “No!  I can’t play the ball.” (no violation).

Your scenario, however, adds a twist.  The ball off A1 didn’t go directly to A2 — there was an intercepting contact with the ball and, in fact, it was by an opponent.  If, instead, the interception had been by a teammate (A3) in an onside position, then there would be no offside violation and thus ends that particular segment of play for offside analysis, only to begin another when A3 heads the ball to A2.  Was A2 still in an offside position at the time A3 headed the ball?  Did A2 then become involved in active play by touching the ball in any way?  If the answers to both questions is “Yes,” then there has been an offside violation; if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then no offside violation.  (For purposes of this scenario, we’re focusing on “interfering with play” and not such additional ways of active play involvement as “interfering with an opponent.”)

So, we come to the heart of your scenario and the really important question becomes “What do you mean by ‘heads’?”   In an offside scenario involving intervening contact with the ball by an opponent (B1), the referee must decide whether the contact was deliberate or accidental (e.g., a deflection off the opponent’s head, trunk, or legs).  If deliberate, then there is no violation because, by the deliberate play, the opponent took possession of the ball and, when that ball then went to A2, it was no longer coming from A2’s teammate.  If accidental, then there is a violation because the accidental contact is deemed not to have given B1 possession and, thus, the ball at A2’s feet had indeed come from A1.

There are one note and two important caveats to remember in all this.

The note is that, historically, this distinction between deliberate and accidental applies only to a defender, not to an attacker.  In other words, any contact with the ball by an attacker, without regard to whether it was accidental or deliberate, is deemed as “coming from the attacker” for purposes of evaluating the offside position.  A rather extreme example of this might start with both A2 and A3 in onside positions but with A2 moving forward toward the opponent’s goal.  The ball is struck toward the intended target A3 by A1 and it glances of A3’s head.  Since A3 was in an onside position when A1 kicks the ball, there is no violation.  The glance of the ball redirects it to A2 who, at the time of the glance, had moved far enough toward the opposing goal line that A2 is now in an offside position.  There is an offside violation now if A2 interferes with play because, although not in an offside position when A1 kicked the ball, A2 is in an offside position when the ball accidentally deflects off A3.  The accidental deflection is treated the same as a deliberate play.

The first caveat is that the decision about whether B1’s contact was deliberate or accidental is solely in the opinion of the referee.  There are no hard and fast guidelines for this — you have to “be there” to see all the facts and circumstances.  That said,  using the phrase “heads the ball” generally suggests a deliberate play.

The second caveat is that there is a significant exception to the whole deliberate/accidental dichotomy — namely, it doesn’t matter even if the contact was deliberate if the opponent’s resulting play is deemed to be a “save”!  The 2016/2017 rewrite of Law 11 requires us to develop some general notion of what a “save” is.  Fortunately, the Law has given us an excellent start on this by defining a “save” (p. 166, current Lawbook) as “an action to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal.”  “Into the goal” is easy … this has long been meant as “but for the intervention, the ball would have gone into the net.”  “Or very close” is tougher but could be thought of as “so close to looking like it would go into the goal that a reasonable defender would expend every legal effort to prevent the goal” — some might think of this notion as meaning something desperate enough to be virtually reflexive (e.g., a goalkeeper fisting the ball away).

So, finally, we can answer your question about whether A2’s actions constituted an offside violation.  “Yes” if “heads” is pictured as an accidental deflection, “No” if the referee decides B1’s play was deliberate, and “No” if the accidental deflection was a save.


Coming from an Offside Position

Shane Wallace, a parent from Tomball TX, asks:

Can a player who is passively offside come back onside to receive a pass? During our game, our forwards were checking to an offside position and then running back to an onside position to receive a pass. The ref on the field was calling them off side. When they had received/touched the ball, they were in an onside position. What is the correct ruling here?
It caused a big uproar because the opposing team was doing it and the ref was not calling it.


Let’s deal with the easiest issue first … the last statement.  If the referee was making calls on exactly the same situation one way for one team but a different way for the opposing team, then this is clearly incorrect.  However, there is no way that we can comment on things we haven’t ourselves seen.

Now, as for the core issue, the referee was entirely correct to call an offside violation under the circumstance which you described.  Issues related to Law 11 (Offside) are the 5th largest category of questions on this site and at the heart of many of them is the situation you have described.  Spectators are often confused by this element of Law 11 because the term “offside position” appears to refer to a place on the field.  It doesn’t.  It refers instead to a “flag” which is set to “offside position” whenever an attacker, at the moment the ball is touched/played by a teammate, is ahead of the ball, the midfield line, and the second-to-last-defender.  Once “flagged” for an offside position, the attacker cannot get rid of this until one of three things happens — the ball is again touched/played by a teammate and the attacker no longer meets the three criteria, the ball is deliberately played by an opponent, or the referee stops play (e.g., the ball leaves the field in favor of the defending team, there is an injury, a foul is committed, etc.).

In short, once in an offside position, an attacker is still in an offside position from that moment forward no matter where his teammates move, no matter where the defenders move, and no matter where the ball moves!  And this is exactly what you described.  Your player was in an offside position at one point and then moved to a different place on the field where he may have looked like he was in an onside position, but he wasn’t, he was still in an offside position because he “carried” it with him.  This is often referred to as “coming from an offside position” and is matched by its exact opposite — “coming from an onside position” which refers to an attacker who makes contact with the ball in an apparent offside position but remains onside (and shouldn’t be called for a violation) because he was in an onside position when his teammate last played/touched the ball.

By the way, the term “passive offside” is no longer used precisely because it muddies the water.  The offside position is neither passive nor active and, by definition, the offside violation is always “active.”


To all football associations, confederations and FIFA
Circular no. 3
Zurich, 17 July 2015 SEC/2015-C051/bru
Dear Sir or Madam,
Following requests from a number of football associations and confederations regarding offside, The IFAB would like to provide additional clarification and/or guidance relating to the definition of the offside offence of ‘interfering with an opponent’ and also to the definition of ‘save’ in the context of offside (Laws of the Game, p. 110).
This clarification follows detailed deliberations between our Technical Sub-Committee and the Technical Advisory Panel, which consists of refereeing experts from all the confederations.
Please be informed that this clarification replaces any non-IFAB instructions or guidance received previously with respect to this matter. We trust that this clarification will ensure a higher uniformity in the application of Law 11.
1. “Interfering with an opponent”
In addition to the situations already outlined in the Laws of the Game, a player in an offside position shall also be penalised if he:
• clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an
opponent or
• makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

• ‘clearly attempts’ – this wording is designed to prevent a player who runs towards the ball from quite a long distance being penalised (unless he gets close to the ball).
• ‘close’ is important so that a player is not penalised when the ball goes clearly over his head or clearly in front of him.
• ‘impact’ applies to an opponent’s ability (or potential) to play the ball and will include situations where an opponent’s movement to play the ball is delayed, hindered or prevented by the offside player.

However, just because a player is an offside position it does not always mean that he has an impact. For example:
• if the ball is on the right-hand side of the field and an ‘offside’ player in the centre of the field moves into a new attacking position he is not penalised unless this action affects an opponent’s ability to play the ball • where a player tries to play the ball as it is going into the goal without affecting an opponent, or in situations where there is no opposition player near, he should not be penalised

2. “Save”
Law 11 outlines situations when an offside player is penalised by becoming involved in active play and these include (p. 110):
• “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball i. that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position ii. that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.

As indicated in the last sentence a ‘save’ can be made by any player and is not limited to the goalkeeper. Therefore, The IFAB wishes to clarify that: A ‘save’ is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of his body except his hands (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).

NB: This clarification is consistent with the use of the word ‘save’ in Law 12 – Offences by the Goalkeeper (p. 122).

Additional information: change of FIFA Quality Program logos Unrelated to Law 11, we would like to take this opportunity to mention the change to the FIFA quality marks on footballs (p. 16), which was not part of the previous correspondence. This change is already reflected in the printed editions of the Laws of the Game 2015/16, which you received recently.

Thank you for your attention and please feel free to contact us should you have any questions or enquiries.

Yours sincerely,
On behalf of the Board of Directors
Lukas Brud Secretary



I was the AR in a game yesterday with a similar situation to the game referenced above. The difference was that the player in the offside position broke toward the goal and ran ahead of the ball until he pulled up in front of the goal. When the ball was passed to him it had just brought him into an onside position. I raised the flag and and placed the kick where he was first offside. I got vehement protests from the sideline (as I was the bench side AR) and the debate raged on after the game, with experienced knowledgeable people. Was this the right decision or was he eligible to receive the ball as soon as it passed him? Note:this whole event took about 3 seconds.

Answer (April 29, 2014):
If the player had returned (or been returned by circumstances) to an onside position BEFORE his teammate played the ball to him and had not, as Navas had not, attracted any attention from his opponents or otherwise interfered with play or with an opponent, then he should not have called offside. Being in an offside position is NOT an infringement of the Laws, so the player should not be punished for something that occurred under the circumstances you describe.

For the benefit of others, I append here the answer of June 20, 2012:

Navas’s goal was legally scored. He was in an offside position when the ball was first passed to Iniesta, who started from an onside position. Navas was not called for offside at that moment because he was not actively involved in play in any of the three meanings defined by the International Football Association Board: interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage from being in that position. Navas remained in that position to show his lack of involvement as Iniesta moved forward. Navas became onside as soon as Iniesta took possession of the ball and moved nearer to the goal. Iniesta then passed the ball to Navas. By the time Iniesta passed the ball to Navas the latter was no longer in an offside position — never having moved or interfered with play or with an opponent (no one even looked at him) — and could not be called offside because he was level with the ball at the pass.

I might add that the television commentators, generally the least knowledgable observers of soccer at any level of play, got it right this time and never said a word about any offside.


Unusual incident occurred in my game yesterday.
My team were awarded a penalty kick when my player was tripped inside
the box.
The ball was on the spot and all the players were ready when the
linesman flagged to get the referee’s attention.
The ref goes over to talk and the linesman explains that my player was
offside before being fouled.

The ref accepts this and reverses his decision and awards our
opponents a free kick.

However, the ref still gives the defender a red card for tripping my

everyone was confused and everyone started to laugh…
what on earth is the rule on this?

Answer (April 28, 2014):
If the trip was done with excessive force—the only reason I can think of—then the referee was correct to send off the defender, no matter that your player had already violated Law 11. Old referee aphorism: The Laws of the Game were not meant to compensate for the mistakes of the players.


Not to reopen a can of worms but I had one question with regard to an offsides infraction.

Strictly interpreting law 11, it seems possible that an attacking player can be in an offsides position on the opponents half of the field, and an offsides infraction can occur if he/she receives a pass (across the halfway line) from a teammate. I’ve never seen this penalty called and been told by several coaches that it is not a violation.

How should referees interpret this situation?

Answer (March 22, 2014):
Coaches are not the best source for information about offside or any other infringements of the Laws. Yes, a player who is in an offside position at the moment the ball is played by his/her teammate and then receives that ball is indeed considered to be offside. It makes no difference if the teammate who played the ball to the player in the offside position was in his/her own half or in the opponents’ half of the field. It also makes no difference if the player in the offside position returns from the offside position to his/her own half to receive the ball. It’s still offside. The indirect free kick is given at the place here the player was when the teammate played the ball.


I am an assistant instructor. My question is about offsides on a dropped ball. In law 11 it specifically states that a player should not be ruled offside if he receives a ball directly from a goal kick, a corner kick, or a throw-in. It does not mention a drop ball. In table 8.6 (Common elements of the eight methods of restarting play as found in the current edition of “Advice to Referees” the question can player who receives ball directly be declared offside and the answer is no. Why is drop ball not mentioned in Law 11 as one of the ways that a player would not be judged offside if he receives the ball directly from the dropped ball? Does it have to do with technically neither team has possession during a dropped ball? Thank you in advance for your time and effort.

Answer (March 3, 2013):
The dropped ball was included in that array of non-offside situations in Law 11 at one time, but was dropped in 1990. The reason given st that time by the English FA in proposing the item to the International Football Association Board: “The proposed new text eliminates the phrase concerning the ball being dropped by the referee. Since the Law was reworded some years ago this phrase has not been appropriate, as a player may only be considered in the context of an off-side offence if the ball was touched or played by one of his team.”


In the recent Boxing Day match between Newcastle United and Manchester United, a controversial goal was awarded in the 28th minute.

[The questioner included a load of detail of items from Law 11, the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, and the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”

The bottom line is that the ATRs *appear* to offer guidance that is either not backed up by IFAB or FIFA guidance, or the rest of the world is unaware of said guidance.

Any clarification you can provide would be helpful.

Answer (December 28, 2012):
This is a very close call. From the available evidence (two photos and a video clip), it is impossible to decide one way or another. In such cases, we cannot do any better than to rely on the long-time guidance from the IFAB, FIFA, and the U. S. Soccer Federation: The referee must be completely sure that an offense has occurred before calling it. If the referee does not recognize a possible infringement as such and call it (either by whistling for the offense or invoking the advantage clause or making no call at all on a trifling offense), then that offense has not occurred.

We are very concerned, however, with the comment that the Advice to Referees (ATR) appears to offer guidance which is not backed by anything official. Obviously, we disagree. The original question, which I have omitted here, breaks down the decision into its appropriate parts and comes down exactly where it should have: the core question (given the givens) is whether there was interference with an opponent, and THAT is solely a matter of judgment for which the IFAB’s own guidance is quite sufficient — blocking the path, blocking the vision, or acting to distract or deceive. The ATR does not say anything contrary to this. The citation from the ATR is merely a good, concrete example of what exactly is meant by “acting to distract or deceive”: If the actions of the attacker in an offside position “draw” or cause a defender to move in a way he would not likely have moved in the absence of the offside position attacker, that is interfering with an opponent. So it all comes down to the basic issue of determining whether any of the three elements of interfering with an opponent applied. Our opinion is that it is arguable either way. We see the possibility of the goalkeeper’s line of vision being blocked or at least hindered (given where the attacker was). We also see the possibility that the attacker in the offside position blocked a possible movement path by the defender. And there is also the possibility – though we have no information on what was happening in the second or two prior to the first still picture — that the attacker may have drawn the defender to be where he was at the moment the ball deflected off the defender’s knee. However, because these are all only possibilities, that does not negate the guidance from on high that the referee must be absolutely certain of the offense – any offense, not simply offside – before calling it.


Question: Sounds stupid but…

Me and my friends were having a debate in the pub about the offside rule. I was a neutral in this debate but would be interested to know what an official referee would do:

If a player is laying injured in an offside position while play is continuing, and a shot that was going in anyway is deflected off his leg or head unintentionally, is it offside? If the player wasn’t there and the shot was going in anyway, surely as the player had no intent the goal should stand?

Answer November 28, 2012):
But his presence DID have an effect on play — “deflected off his leg or head unintentionally” — means by definition that he interfered with play.

We need to remember that it is only a supposition that the shot was going to go in anyway. There is, unfortunately, no way of proving that, without the deflection, the keeper might or would have made the save. In all events, Law 11 does not require or even presume that the attacker in the offside position must INTENTIONALLY become involved in active play; he only needs to BE involved in active play. If he had been standing up in an offside position and a shot from a teammate had bounced off his back into the goal, wouldn’t this be offside position? Suppose the player on the ground were dead and the ball deflected off him into the goal — it’s still an offside violation (though, to be fair, we should probably have stopped play before all this due to the “serious injury”).

This was illustrated in the 2008-2009 Laws of the Game on p. 101, illustration 1 (last time it is shown, but the principle still applies): “An attacker in an offside position (A), not interfering with an opponent, touches the ball.” And the ruling on the same page says “The assistant referee must raise the flag when the player touches the ball.”


I have received a number of questions about the goal by Navas versus Croatia, all wanting to know why Navas was not called offside. The questions provide a variety of information that could be applied to the matter, but the answer is much simpler.

The questions (abridged where necessary):
Q1. the eventual goal scorer, in my view, clearly “gained an advantage from being in an offside position”; but I note the “interpretation” of the rules assigns a meaning to that phrase which may explain this not being offside. That said, the “interpretation” refers to a ball hitting the post and coming to the player who was in offside position which seems ridiculously narrow.

Q2. [The goal] was offside because he came from an offside position when Iniesta passed the ball to him. When I read the rule there is nothing written but there is a part said gaining adantage of being offside where FIFA states:

“Gaining an advantage by being in that position” means:
Playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or crossbar, having previously been in an offside position.
Playing a ball, that rebounds to him off an opponent, having previously been in an offside position.

This is for a rebound ball where states him PREVIOUSLY being in an offside position, Wouldnt be the same a pass for teammate to him (NAVAS) previously being in an offside position??

But after I investigated some more I found a FIFA sketch where if player B get the ball being onside he can pass the ball to player C behind his ball line even though playec C was passive and never change that position from the time player B got the ball to the time player B pass the ball to C offside when player B got the ball first time. So my question isnt this a contradiction on the previous explanation by fifa saying that a player being previously offiside can get a ball rebound or anything like it??

Q3. During the Euro 2012 game between Spain and Croatia, much controversy has been generated with the allegedly offside goal by Spain. Although Navas is not directly involved in play, he ends up being involved once Iniesta passes him the ball and all the defenders have stopped their pursuit, waiting for the offside call by the officials.

Is there a moment in which the initial offside is nullified whether by a touch by a defender, a back pass to a teammate, etc.?

[And the questioner points out this interesting article on propsals to update the Laws, including offside: ]

Answer (June 20, 2012):
Navas’s goal was legally scored. He was in an offside position when the ball was first passed to Iniesta, who started from an onside position. Navas was not called for offside at that moment because he was not actively involved in play in any of the three meanings defined by the International Football Association Board: interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage from being in that position. Navas remained in that position to show his lack of involvement as Iniesta moved forward. Navas became onside as soon as Iniesta took possession of the ball and moved nearer to the goal. Iniesta then passed the ball to Navas. By the time Iniesta passed the ball to Navas the latter was no longer in an offside position — never having moved or interfered with play or with an opponent (no one even looked at him) — and could not be called offside because he was level with the ball at the pass.

I might add that the television commentators, generally the least knowledgable observers of soccer at any level of play, got it right this time and never said a word about any offside.