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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.”

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 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.”

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 “Kicks From the Penalty Mark (KFPM),” 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.

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.

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 part or in whole.  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 TheIFAB.com.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.


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John C. Harves


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