Soccer offside offence and offside rules: FIFA law 11

Carlos Tevez of Argentina is closer to Mexico's goal line than the second-last Mexican. He was clearly in an offside position and subsequently committed an offside offence. The goal stood, thanks to an incompetent Italian Assistant Referee.
Carlos Tevez of Argentina is closer to Mexico's goal line than the second-last Mexican. He was clearly in an offside position and subsequently committed an offside offence. The goal stood, thanks to an incompetent Italian Assistant Referee.

Prerequisites for the offside offence

The offside offence in soccer occurs when an attacker, having been in an offside position at the moment his teammate plays or touches the ball, becomes involved in active play.

There are two conditions for the offside offence to occur:

a) The attacker must have been in an offside position at the moment his teammate played or touched the ball

b) Having satisfied (a), the attacker must be involved in active play in any one of three ways

Match officials determine the offside offence as follows:

Offside offence = Offside position + Involvement in active play

Involvement in active play

What fans and team officials must realise that it is not an offence, in itself, to be in an offside position. In addition, nothing is wrong with receiving the ball in an offside position, once you were onside at the moment your teammate played the ball. Involvement in active play has three criteria:

a) Interfering with play: This involves touching the ball, whether the touch is deliberate or accidental

b) Interfering with an opponent: This involves verbally distracting or distracting the opponent in any other way, being in the way of an opponent or obscuring the opponent's vision

c) Gaining an advantage by being in that position: Playing the ball from a rebound or deflection off an opponent or the goal posts/crossbar

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Exceptions to the rule

Since being in an offside position alone does not constitute an offence, assistant referees adopt a wait-and-see approach in judging whether an offside infringement has occurred. However, if an attacker who was in the offside position runs toward the ball, the assistant referee may consider this an offside offence if no teammate of the attacker has a chance to play the ball.

This does not suggest that an attacker should be penalised for attempting to play the ball, however. There is nothing in Law 11 to suggest that match officials must penalize an offside attacker for merely attempting to play the ball.

So, once an attacker is in an offside position and involved in active play, he's committing an offside offence, right? Not necessarily, since there are clear exceptions in the offside law. For instance, if an attacker receives the ball directly from a goal kick, corner kick or throw-in, he cannot commit an offside offence.

The operative word there is "directly", meaning that it does not entail a teammate of the attacker playing or touching the ball. If that happens, the assistant referee must consider that a new phase of play.

Another exception is if the attacker is in his own half of the field at the moment his teammate plays or touches the ball.

Another consideration for the offside offence is the role of the defender/ teammate. The offside is judged when the attacker's teammate plays or touches the ball. Therefore, if a defender makes a deliberate play, an offside attacker receiving the ball directly from that play cannot commit an offside offence.

Some football coaches interpret this to mean that ANY touch by a defender cannot result in an offside offence. However, this is not the case, since "gaining an advantage by being in that position" covers deflections or rebounds by opponents.

The offside law would likely always have an element of controversy, especially with the marginal calls that assistant referees usually dread. It makes the game a bit more colourful and is usually a hot topic over a few beers.

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Comments 10 comments

Common Knowledge profile image

Common Knowledge 7 years ago from East Coast

good hub very informative


Zeussoh 6 years ago

Is it possible for the attacker to commit an offside offence through receiving a ball from a free kick? I'm asking this question because only the throw in, goal kick and the corner kick is mentioned in the fifa rule11 as circumstances which an offside offence can not be committed!


SpiffyD profile image

SpiffyD 6 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Hi Zeussoh

An attacker can commit an offside offence from a free kick. The exceptions identified in Law 11 are the exceptions to the offside offence that are not identified in the definition of the offisde offence and offside position. When a team has a free kick, the assistant referee must be wary of when the ball is struck and the position of the second last opponent. Since the ball is stationary on a free kick, this is often much easier to judge.


mrpopo profile image

mrpopo 5 years ago from Canada

Out of curiousity, passing backwards cannot be considered offside, right?

I remember seeing a play by Johann Cruyff where he passed on a penalty to a teammate, then received the pass back and just walked up to the goalie and scored. The other team had no idea what happened as they just watched the entire play.


SpiffyD profile image

SpiffyD 5 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks for commenting mrpopo. That could easily be a legitimate play providing that the ball was played forward from the penalty mark and that when Cryuff received the ball from his teammate, he was not closer to the opponents goal line than the ball (in other words, not ahead of the ball when it was played to him). Once he was level or behind the line of the ball, it should have been adjudged onside.

On a related note, a defender's backpass to an offside attacker would not be considered offside by definition. Some interesting situations happen in football that really test the knowledge of the laws. For instance, assume that the attacking team has a throw-in. Recall that an attacker cannot commit an offside offence if he receives the ball directly from a throw-in. However, after the ball is thrown, it deflects off a defender and goes towards the attacker who is in an offside position. Did the attacker commit an offside offence?

No. This is because the defender touching or playing the ball is seen in the context of the throw-in. For a player to commit an offisde offence, he has to be involved in active play, having been in an offside position when the ball was played or touched by his teammate.

If the ball deflected off a teammate of the offside attacker and he was deemed involved in active play, he would have been called for offside. If the ball was deflected by a defender off a free kick, the attacker would have also been offside by virtue of gaining advantage by being in that position.

This is only one of several crazy situations that might puzzle fans.


mrpopo profile image

mrpopo 5 years ago from Canada

Funny enough, these crazy situations sometimes puzzle players as well. That's why the Cruyff penalty worked (and yes, that's exactly how it happened).


Hikapo profile image

Hikapo 5 years ago from California

Sometimes, the judgement call of offside changes the games dynamics. Spiffy, you ever wonder why they don't implement video like in American Football?


SpiffyD profile image

SpiffyD 5 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Well, the thing is, that would be difficult to implement in some instances. The easiest instance is like the second round game between Argentina and Mexico, where a replay showed that the goal should have been disallowed. However, offside judgements involve calls and non-calls. These, in turn, result in "flag or no-flag errors."

Using video replays in most instances would disrupt the flow of the game without necessaily adding value. Then calls would have to be instantly reviewed and the assistant referee's role would be marginalized as well. Besides, if an AR made a flag error, then how do you restart the game. Even if the team who was wronged gets a free kick, that would have reduced their momentum significantly.

It is easier to use a video replay to review the legitimacy of a goal as opposed to offside. However, I doubt FIFA would ever allow video replays since they would have to rework the Laws of the Game significantly as well.


Hikapo profile image

Hikapo 5 years ago from California

Hey Spiffy, Spain and France got grouped together in the World cup qualifying campaign. What are your thoughts?


SpiffyD profile image

SpiffyD 5 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Hello Hikapo.

I think it would be a great match-up for two European powerhouses and former colonial rivals. The history between the nations outside of the match-up makes it a good one, but Spain is favoured to come out on top on the head-to-head.

Spain and France were drawn in Group I, along with Belarus, Georgia and Finland. Being a five-team group, France and Spain must ensure that there are no slip-ups against the lesser weights in the group to increase the chances of the second-place team qualifying. The low quality of the other teams in this group removes some of the lustre of the Spain-France clash for me.

Finland can prove to be spoilers, so I believe that the matches against Finland can be very important for France.

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