The Duration of the Match – Law 7



If you’re new to the sport of soccer you might be wondering what the length of a soccer game is. Soccer games are divided into two equal halves.  In accordance with Law 7 of the Laws of the Game, “The Duration of the Match,” each half is 45-minutes long in a full match.  The amount of time for each half may be reduced prior to the start of the match, if agreed upon by the referee and the two teams involved, but the two halves must still be of equal time.  Shorter time periods are usually associated with youth matches as provided for in local rules.  The referee is the sole official timekeeper of a match.  The time is kept as “straight running time” with no stoppages of the referee’s watch.  There are no “time outs” from this continuously-running time, but time may be added for playing time lost as indicated below.

Law 7 provides for a halftime interval between the two halves.  This is a mandatory rest and water break for the players.  The halftime break for a full match may be no longer than 15 minutes.  Local rules may permit shorter halftime periods.  Shorter halftimes are usually associated with youth games using shorter halves.  The second half may resume with less time consumed for the halftime, however, if both teams and the referee agree and everyone is ready to play.  Otherwise, the full halftime break is required, even if only one player states that they need it.

Now the length of a soccer game can end up being extended due to the fact that at the end of each half an official can add time on due to playing time being lost from actual play during the half due to:  substitutions; evaluation and/or the removal of injured players or other medical reasons; time wasting; disciplinary sanctions (such as the issuance of yellow and red cards); medical stoppages permitted by competition rules (“drinks breaks,” generally taken during the middle of a half, which should not exceed one minute each, and “cooling breaks,” which should not exceed three minutes each); and any other cause, including the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) or significant delays to a restart, such as goal celebrations and outside interference.  Also see: “The Referee – Law 5.”  This allowance is usually referred to as “Added Time,” “Additional Time,” or “Allowance for Playing Time Lost.”  It is also commonly called “Stoppage Time,” “Time Added On,” or “Injury Time.”

In higher-level matches where electronic sign boards are used, in the final minute before the end of each half, the referee tells the fourth official how much time he is going to add.  The fourth official then indicates the full minutes of additional time expected to be played.  If the time communicated by the referee is fractionally greater than a full minute, the fourth official must always indicate the lower full minute.  For example, if the referee indicates 3-3/4 minutes is to be added, the fourth official must indicate 3 minutes.  (Information regarding the fourth official may be found in “The Other Match Officials – Law 6.”

The additional time may be increased by the referee but may not be reduced.  Any increases are usually due to allowances that occur during the additional time itself, based on the same criteria used during each half as identified above.  Once the referee has determined that the additional time has run, the referee alone signals the end of the first half or the end of full time.  However, time may be further extended at the end of either half if a foul occurs which results in the award of a penalty kick just before time expires.  The half is then extended until the penalty kick is completed, even if an event occurs that requires the penalty kick to be retaken.

The last item addressed in Law 7 is associated with a match that has had to be abandoned.  Abandonment of a match is a determination to be made and applied by the referee.  See: “The Referee – Law 5.”  Any abandoned match is expected to be replayed unless competition rules or the organizers determine otherwise.

The length of a soccer game can also be extended due to extra time (overtime), as well as penalty-kick tiebreakers (“kicks from the penalty mark”) and the concept of the “away goals rule” (associated with an “aggregate score” in “two-leg” competitions) are specified in Law 10, “Determining the Outcome of a Match,” of the Laws of the Game.  Law 7 includes a provision that a short drinks break is officially permitted at the halftime between extra time periods.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

–       Because the halftime interval must not exceed 15-minutes, or the amount of time specified in local rules, coaches are to get their players out on the field, and in position ready to play, before the time limit is exceeded.  Referees are instructed to start calling for the players well before this can occur.  Coaches must teach this concept to their players.

–       “Added Time” is not the same as “Extra Time,” which is overtime.

–       Referees may not compensate for any timekeeping errors made during the first half by changing the length of the second half. This of course will affect the length of soccer game.

–       Time expires the instant the referee starts to blow his whistle to end each half.  In effect the ball “freezes in flight,” if it is in play, just as the whistle starts to sound.  (Unlike in basketball for example, a shot does not continue until its outcome is determined.)

–       Technically, the allowance for playing time lost is for:

    • substitutions
    • assessment and/or removal of injured players
    • wasting time
    • disciplinary sanctions
    • medical stoppages permitted by competition rules e.g. ‘drinks’ breaks (which should not exceed one minute) and ‘cooling’ breaks (ninety seconds to three minutes)
    • delays relating to VAR ‘checks’ and ‘reviews’
    • goal celebrations
    • any other cause, including any significant delay to a restart (e.g., due to interference by an outside agent)

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