The Advantage Rule – Part of Law 5



The Advantage Rule in soccer states that the Referee has the responsibility to NOT call an obvious foul if it hurts the non-offending team.  Also known as the “Advantage Clause,” the rule is originally unique to soccer, whereby the Referee has the responsibility to refrain from calling an obvious foul if, by stopping play at that moment, the effect would be to cause greater harm to the team – or to take away an advantage from that team – that was fouled.  This requirement is contained within Law 5 of the Laws of the Game, “The Referee.”

Under the Powers and Duties section of Law 5, it is stated that “The referee: …allows play to continue when an infringement or offense occurs and the non-offending team will benefit from the advantage and penalizes the infringement or offense if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time or within a few seconds.”

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, and the anticipated advantage has ensued to the non-offending team, with a goal being scored.   Although a penalty was not called, the Referee can then deal with the egregious foul after the fact by issuing a yellow or red card.  (If the goal was not scored, the Referee would award a direct free kick or a penalty kick, as appropriate based on the location of the foul, and issue the card.)

Unlike the example, application of the Advantage Clause can get a little more imprecise out in the main field of play.  It almost always occurs for an attacking team from mid-field to 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 – presenting an opportunity to shoot or score, “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 ensue 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.  (Referees are strongly encouraged to give a single- or double- under-arm sweep of the arm(s) signal to indicate to the players that “Advantage” has been applied and for play to continue.  This lets both the players and the fans know that the foul has been seen and a decision has been made.)  The decision often takes less than five seconds to make and it is almost always based on if the team that was fouled retains possession of the ball.


Soccer Referee Advantage Signal

The Advantage Clause, together with Offside, is one of the more sophisticated rules in soccer.  Application of the Advantage Clause in youth games is generally low (because calling the foul is far more instructive) and slowly increases with age, skill level, and level of 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 true situation of “Advantage” materializing is remote.

Important Note – Advantage is also addressed in Law 12 of the Laws of the Game, “Fouls and Misconduct.”  Especially spot the details in the actual Law.  This includes, “If the referee plays the advantage for an offense for which a caution/sending-off would have been issued had play been stopped, this caution/sending-off must be issued when the ball is next out of play.  However, if the offense was denying the opposing team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, the player is cautioned for unsporting behavior; if the offense was interfering with or stopping a promising attack, the player is not cautioned.”

Soccer Coaching Tips:

–  All players must be taught never to assume that, either a foul is going to be called, or that “advantage” will or will not be applied, and to continue playing until a decision (or non-decision) is clear (whistle blown or visual signal given).

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