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The Fundamentals of Soccer

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Soccer, also known as the Beautiful Game, is the most popular sport worldwide. From the schoolyard pitches of England to the favelas of Brazil where Ronaldinho honed his skills, it is perhaps the most accessible sport there is. All you need is a ball, a surface to play on, and a goal. If you are new to the game, it’s worth understanding the rules, so here is a basic overview of everything you need to know to get started watching and playing soccer.

How Many Players Are On The Pitch?

During a game of soccer, there can only be a maximum of twenty-two players on the pitch. As the game is played between two teams, it’s no surprise that this involves eleven players on either side.

The players are separated into unique positions that play to their strengths. At the back, there is the goalkeeper (or goalie), who protects the net by saving shots and coming out to collect crosses. Goalkeepers are also responsible for organizing the defense.
In front of the goalkeeper sits the defense. Typically, teams will play with a back four, although some tactics involve a three-at-the-back, or even five-at-the-back, which is considered a more defensive formation. Defenders are charged with protecting the goalkeeper, tackling, and are generally the tallest and toughest on the pitch. Some soccer fans consider defense to be the first line of attack.

In the center of the park sits the Midfield, and there are unique roles within this position. Generally, teams play with two central midfielders (often considered an attacking midfielder and a defensive one), with two wide players.

The central midfielders will collect the ball, hold on to it, and distribute it either out wide or up the field towards the attacker(s). They are confident on the ball and have superb accuracy, as they are required to ping balls all over the field.

Wide players, sometimes referred to as the wingers, are pacey, dripping with flair, and are required to cross the ball in for the attacker, although some players, referred to as Inverted Wingers, will cut inside and release a shot themselves.

Finally, you have your strikers. Depending on the formation, there is one striker or two. They are responsible for goals, goals, and even more goals. For most teams, they will finish the season as the top scorers, but hold up play, where they retain the ball before distributing it to a second striker, can also be an important part of the game

What Are Set Pieces?

Set pieces are an essential part of a soccer game. There are a variety of different set pieces that you will find during a game. These are Penalty Kicks, Free Kicks, Corner Kicks, Goal Kicks, and Throw Ins. Some games will also include a Drop Ball scenario, although these are not as common.

A set piece will occur when there is a break in play, whether from the ball going out of play, a foul, or similar breach of the rules.

Throw In
A Throw-In is the only time where an outfield player (i.e. not the goalkeeper) is permitted to touch the ball with their hands, but even this can only occur while out-of-play. If the ball crosses the byline down either flank, possession is granted to the team not responsible for putting the ball out of play. To restart play, a member of the team will throw the ball back onto the field.

Goal Kick
A Goal Kick is taken from the edge of the six-yard box following the ball going over the touchline in the defensive half. Goal Kicks will only occur when an attacking player puts the ball into touch, whether from a shot off target, errant pass, or by miscontrolling it.

Free Kick
A Free Kick occurs following a foul on an opposing player or an offside. There is something unique about Free Kicks that is not present with other set pieces, however. Players can take two types of Free Kick, a Direct or an Indirect one. With Direct Free Kicks, players are permitted to score directly from the kick. However, with Indirect Free Kicks, the ball must touch another player of either team before crossing the goal line to be ruled as a goal.

Penalty
Penalties are the most exciting type of set piece. They are basically a Free Kick inside the penalty box. But unlike a Free Kick, the only member of the team defending the goal is the goalkeeper. Penalties are taken from the penalty spot, which is twelve yards from the goal line.

Drop Ball
While not as common as the other set pieces, Drop Balls can happen. The referee will use a drop ball when there is a break in play for any reason other than the ball going out of play or a foul being committed. The most common example is when play is stopped for an injury. If one team had possession, the ball is usually returned to them, but there is nothing in the Laws of the Game that mandates this.

The Role of the Referee

While rarely the most popular guy on the field, the referee plays a crucial role within the game. They are the one responsible for maintaining order and making crucial decisions.

During the game, the referee will call fouls, allow teams an ‘Advantage’, where a foul occurs but they can still capitalize and discipline players. You will see this with cautions, Yellow Cards (or Bookings), and Red Cards. Two Yellow Cards will equal Red, and they dismiss the player from the game. The referee will also decide the amount of added time at the end of each half, which is sometimes referred to as injury time, and is based on the amount of stoppages throughout the initial 45 minutes.
Referees are flanked by assisting referees, known as linesmen and a Fourth Official. These assistants will help with decisions if the referee is uncertain, such as with Throw Ins, Goal Kicks or Corners, and Offsides. The Fourth Official will announce which players are being substituted and be a direct line between Managers or Coaches and the Referee.

In some leagues across the world, there are also Video Referees who make decisions off the field. You will have seen this with the VAR systems implemented across elite competitions across Europe, such as the EPL, Serie A, and UEFA Champions League.

Goals, Goals, Goals

There’s an opinion from anyone who never really got soccer that it’s a game lacking in goals, and the fact that it is very possible a game will end 0-0 is sure to put people off. While games can end goalless, most games will have at least one goal, and this is where the fun begins.

Unlike other sports, such as American Football and Rugby, a goal only counts as One. Goals can be scored from anywhere on the field, although you will mostly see them happen from within the 18-yard box. Players can score a goal from open play, penalties, free kicks, and even corners.

For a goal to stand, the ball must cross the line entirely. If even an inch of the ball is not fully over the goal line, then it will be ruled out. Likewise, any players in an offside position and determined to be interfering with play, such as impeding the goalkeeper’s vision, will also prevent the goal from standing.

It is no surprise that at the end of the game, the team with the highest number of goals scored is declared the winner. In League games and tournament group stages, a victory is awarded three points, while a draw (both teams scoring the same amount) is awarded one point.

In knockout games, the team who scores the most progresses. However, there is also the Away goals rule. You can witness this in Continental Tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. As some knockout games are played over two legs, both home and away, Away goals will come into play should the game end as a draw.

If a team scores a goal in their away leg, this will count as an advantage come full time in the event of a draw, allowing them to progress. It can be a controversial rule, but is one that exists nonetheless, eliminating the need for penalties and often extra time.

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