Soccer offside offence and offside rules: FIFA law 11
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.