Under Law 5 of the FIFA Laws of the Game, “The Referee,” the Powers and Duties section states that “The Referee: …allows play to continue when the team against which an offence has been committed will benefit from such an advantage and penalizes the original offence if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time.”
This is the so-called “Advantage Rule” or “Advantage Clause” that is unique to soccer, whereby the Referee has the responsibility to NOT call an obvious foul if, by stopping play at that moment, the effect would be to cause greater harm to the team that was fouled.
Probably the best way to describe an on-field instance of the application of this rule is with an extreme example: A wide-open striker receives the ball out in front of the opponent’s penalty area and heads toward the goal. The opposing goalkeeper comes out to meet him. Just before the goalkeeper arrives, the striker gets off a weak shot. The goalkeeper then proceeds to wipe out the striker. After the collision, the ball slowly makes its way into the goal.
In this sequence of events, the foul committed by the goalkeeper occurs before the goal is scored. If the Referee were to blow his whistle and stop play at the moment the goalkeeper wiped out the striker, the Referee would have negated the goal. Negating the goal clearly benefits the fouling team. Accordingly, the Referee does not blow his whistle and waits to see what happens next.
In this example, in terms of the application of the rule, the Referee has allowed play to continue after the foul, the anticipated advantage has ensued with a goal being scored, and the team against which the foul was committed has benefitted from the result. Although a penalty was not called, the Referee can then deal with the egregious foul with a yellow or red card.
Application of the Advantage Rule gets a little more interesting out in the field of play. It almost always occurs for an attacking team at mid-field or closer to the attacking goal. In these instances, a back or midfielder is fouled during, or just after, passing the ball upfield to an open forward or striker heading toward the goal. Generally, if the ball is received and the attack is promising, “Advantage” is applied and play is allowed to continue without the Referee blowing his whistle. If the ball is intercepted, although “Advantage” was applied at the moment of the foul, the benefit did not accrue and the Referee may blow his whistle for the foul.
It is here where one gets into the interpretation of the application of the rule by the Referee and by the fans. The initial decision to call or not to call the foul may be determined by its perceived severity. Advantage is not to be applied by the Referee if the foul involves “serious foul play,” unless there is a clear opportunity to score a goal. Whether or not an advantage to the attacking team exists may then be in the eye of the beholder, usually depending upon one’s rooting interest. In addition, the time delay between the foul and the advantage not materializing may seem awkward when the whistle is finally blown. If serious foul play has been deemed not to have occurred, the Referee may choose not to blow his whistle for the foul at all.
The Advantage Rule, together with Offside, is one of the more sophisticated rules in soccer. Use of the Advantage Rule in youth games is generally low and slowly increases with age, skill level, and understanding. Coaches of very young players do not need to introduce the concept at all, focusing as they must on teaching basic technique, illegal conduct and other rules, passing, and team concepts. Referees will generally call fouls immediately in youth games because the likelihood of a situation of “advantage” materializing is remote.
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