Determining the Outcome of a Match – Law 10



How a goal is scored in soccer is the single most important portion of Law 10, “Determining the Outcome of a Match,” as contained in the Laws of the Game.  Other portions of Law 10 identify how the winning team is determined, and the procedure for taking penalty kicks to produce a winner.

How a Goal is Scored

The specific wording of Law 10 states that, “A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no offense has been committed by the team scoring the goal.”  “If the goalkeeper throws the ball directly into the opponents’ goal, a goal kick is awarded.”

Since the goal line is supposed to be the same thickness as the goalposts and the crossbar (see Law 1, “The Field of Play”), another way to perceive this concept is to visualize a really thin, vertical, geometric plane rising from the back edge of the goal line up the back of the goal.  In order for a goal to be scored, the entire ball must completely break through this plane.

[If a referee signals that a goal has been scored before the whole of the ball has passed over the goal line (between the goalposts and under the crossbar), play is to be restarted with a “dropped ball.”  See Law 8, “The Start and Restart of Play.”

How the Winning Team is Determined

The team that has scored the greater number of goals at the end of a match is the winner.  If both teams score no goals, or an equal number of goals, the match is a tie (draw).  Ties are usually allowed to stand during regular-season competitions, friendlies, and exhibitions.

In “knockout-style” competitions, where competition rules require a winning team to either advance in the tournament or to be declared a champion, Law 10 identifies three procedures to determine a winning team.  These are:

  • The “away goals rule” for a home-and-away tie in a “two-leg” competition. For example, if Team A wins at their home ground, 2-1; and Team B wins at their home ground, 1-0, the teams are tied with 1-win apiece, but Team B advances because it scored 1-away goal while Team A scored 0-away goals.  (The concept is to try to reward teams that play attacking soccer.)
  • “Two equal periods of extra time not to exceed 15 minutes each.” This is “overtime,” with the teams required to play both periods and change directions between the periods.
  • Penalty kicks. This is the practice commonly known as five players from each team alternately taking “kicks from the penalty mark,” also known as “penalties,” or a “penalty shoot-out.”

A combination of the above procedures may also be used. Tournaments may also be subject to a number of local rules, and/or use such devices as a “golden goal,” where the team that scores first in overtime is immediately declared the winner and the remainder of the overtime period(s) is not used.

Procedure for Taking Penalty Kicks

In “penalties (penalty shoot-out),” each team takes five kicks, alternating kickers, unless the mathematical outcome is already determined, then the remaining kicks are not taken.  For example, if one team goes up on kicks 3-0 after three rounds, the other team could potentially only score two kicks, therefore the result has been decided.

If the number of goals scored for each team is tied after five kicks, the kicks continue one pair at a time until a goal is scored by one team that is not matched by the other team.  This is often referred to as “sudden-death penalty kicks.”

The players eligible to take kicks are those who were on the field at the end of the game.  Eligible players may take only one kick each until all players have kicked.  If the number of goals scored is still tied after all eligible pairs have kicked once, then players kick again.  A player who has been sent off during the match is not permitted to take part; warnings and cautions issued during the match are not carried forward into kicks from the penalty mark.

The remainder of Law 10 is an extensive set of procedures for the referee to follow in order to implement taking penalty kicks and to impose sanctions on any players who may infringe the Law during the kicks:


Before PENALTIES (penalty SHOOT-OUT) start

·         Unless there are other considerations (e.g. ground conditions, safety etc.), the referee tosses a coin to decide the goal at which the kicks will be taken which may only be changed for safety reasons or if the goal or playing surface becomes unusable

·         The referee tosses a coin again and the team that wins the toss decides whether to take the first or second kick

·         With the exception of a substitute for a goalkeeper who is unable to continue, only players who are on the field of play or are temporarily off the field of play (injury, adjusting equipment etc.) at the end of the match are eligible to take kicks

·         Each team is responsible for selecting from the eligible players the order in which they will take the kicks. The referee is not informed of the order

·         If at the end of the match and before or during the kicks one team has a greater number of players than its opponents, it must reduce its numbers to the same number as its opponents and the referee must be informed of the name and number of each player excluded. Any excluded player is not eligible to take part in the kicks (except as outlined below)

·         A goalkeeper who is unable to continue before or during the kicks may be replaced by a player excluded to equalize the number of players or, if their team has not used its maximum permitted number of substitutes, a named substitute, but the replaced goalkeeper takes no further part and may not take a kick

·         If the goalkeeper has already taken a kick, the replacement may not take a kick until the next round of kicks


·         Only eligible players and match officials are permitted to remain on the field of play

·         All eligible players, except the player taking the kick and the two goalkeepers, must remain within the center circle

·         The goalkeeper of the kicker must remain on the field of play, outside the penalty area, on the goal line where it meets the penalty area boundary line

·         An eligible player may change places with the goalkeeper

·         The kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any offense; the kicker may not play the ball a second time

·         The referee keeps a record of the kicks

·         If the goalkeeper commits an offense and, as a result, the kick is retaken, the goalkeeper is warned for the first offense and cautioned for any subsequent offense(s)

·         If the kicker is penalized for an offense committed after the referee has signaled for the kick to be taken, that kick is recorded as missed and the kicker is cautioned

·         If both the goalkeeper and kicker commit an offense at the same time,

o    the kick is recorded as missed and the kicker cautioned

Subject to the conditions explained below, both teams take five kicks

·         The kicks are taken alternately by the teams

·         If, before both teams have taken five kicks, one has scored more goals than the other could score, even if it were to complete its five kicks, no more kicks are taken

·         If, after both teams have taken five kicks, the scores are level kicks continue until one team has scored a goal more than the other from the same number of kicks

·         Each kick is taken by a different player and all eligible players must take a kick before any player can take a second kick

·         The above principle continues for any subsequent sequence of kicks but a team may change the order of kickers

·         Penalties (penalty shoot-out) must not be delayed for a player who leaves the field of play. The player’s kick will be forfeited (not scored) if the player does not return in time to take a kick

Substitutions and send offs during PENALTIES (PENALTY SHOOT-OUT)

·         A player, substitute, substituted player or team official may be cautioned or sent off

·         A goalkeeper who is sent off must be replaced by an eligible player

·         A player other than the goalkeeper who is unable to continue may not be replaced

·         The referee must not abandon the match if a team is reduced to fewer than seven players”

Soccer Coaching Tips:

–       Coaches must impress upon their players that they must never assume that a goal has been fully and completely scored, either on offense or defense, until it is actually awarded by the referee.  On offense, any ball that is close should be followed-up and poked into the back of the net.  On defense, any ball that is close should be contested and kicked away.

–       Overtime procedures for any given competition must be discussed in detail with the players.

–       Penalty kick procedures for any given competition must be discussed in detail with the players and practiced extensively.  See Law 14, “The Penalty Kick.”

–       A short drinks break between overtime periods is officially permitted by Law 7 – “The Duration of the Match.”

NOTICE:  This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB).  As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in whole or in part.  Supplemental wording presented by® should be provided in brackets.  Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected.  Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game.  If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at

© Copyright, John C. Harves