Richard, an adult amateur player, asks:

Hi. I am a central defender and was sent off towards the end of a game this morning for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity. In this instance there was a covering defender which the referee agreed with but he said that if I hadn’t fouled the striker, it would would have been a 2 on 1, i.e. the man I fouled as well as the person the covering defender was marking against the covering defender. However there was obviously the goalkeeper as well and this all happened about 35 yards from goal. I have never before seen an instance of someone being sent off for this offense when there is a covering defender which the referee agreed with and given the distance from goal I’m not sure this constitutes an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Was the referee within his rights to send me off?


Without attempting to nit-pick, the technical answer is, yes, the referee was within his rights, but not necessarily in accordance with how the Law is implemented.

The standard protocol for denying an “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (aka “OGSO”) depends on what kind of foul it was.  If it was a handling offense, the only criterion is the referee’s decision as to whether, but for the handling, the ball would have either gone into the net or been very close to that.

For all other fouls, the referee must balance the following four factors regarding OGSO:

  • The number of defenders  between the foul and the opposing team’s goal who are able to defend (i.e., doesn’t include a defender incapacitated and on the ground or a defender far enough either to the right or left who would have had no ability to participate in any defense based on how close to the goal the offense occurred) and the defender who committed the foul is not included in the count.   This criterion is inflexible – it is applied if the number is 1 and does not apply if the number is 2 or more.  In short,  if there are two or more defenders meeting this requirement, it cannot be an OGSO no matter the status of the other three elements.

The other three elements are flexible and must be weighed together with the above element.

  • The distance from the location of the foul and the goal – this is a yardstick and becomes increasingly important as the distance is shorter.  For example, a foul within 18 yards would rate this factor at the highest level whereas a distance of half a field would seriously weaken the likelihood that it was an OGSO. Every distance in between is in between highest level and lowest level.  35 yards would be a moderately important factor.
  • The general direction of play at the moment of the foul.  That direction must be toward the goal.  If not clearly toward the goal, an OGSO decision is less supportable.  Note, however, that the player against whom the foul was committed might, at that precise moment, might be temporarily not moving directly toward the goal if he or she is attempting to avoid or evade the defender.  The issue is whether the direction of the play, in general, has been toward the goal. If it has been, then this factor is clearly present.
  • Finally, the distance from the site of the foul to the ball at the moment of the foul.  The factor is present if the ball is with “playing distance” – meaning that the fouled player would have been able to continue maintaining possession of the ball if the foul had not happened.  An example is if the player with the ball had played the ball several yards or more ahead just before the foul occurred.  If the ball is considered to be within playing distance, this factor is present.

It is not necessary that each of these four factors be equally present.  Number of defenders has to be 1 or none, direction of play has to be generally toward the goal, the ball cannot be clearly beyond playing distance.  Distance to the goal is, as noted, the most dependent on judgment – the best that can be said is that “too far” detracts from OGSO while close in (certainly within 18-20 yards) makes the factor definitely present.

The question you asked is easy, the answer is not.  It depends on aggregating the nonnumerical value of four factors and then making a decision based on the feel of the game.  In your scenario, the weakest (one might say, possibly entirely absent) is the one we listed first.