How to Understand the Offside Rule in Football

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How to Understand the Offside Rule in Football
How to Understand the Offside Rule in Football

Despite being one of the shortest rules of the 17 in football, rule 11 is probably the most difficult to understand. Its origins come from the 19th century schools, as players stayed close to the opposing goalkeeper to receive the ball and easily score goals, without any infraction of the rules. Since then, the offside rule has changed several times to suit the pace of the game. The most recent change was made in 2005, where FIFA determined that the infraction should not be flagged when an offside player does not engage in the play.


Method 1 of 2: Understanding the Offside Rule

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 1

Step 1. The offside occurs only in the team's own attack field

A player is only offside if he is on the side of the field where the opponent's goal is. The main purpose of the offside rule is to prevent attackers from getting too close to the opponent's goal, just waiting to receive a ball to score.

You will be in the opponent's court if any part of the head, torso or legs has already passed the midfield line. Arms and hands don't count

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 2

Step 2. Compare the player's position in relation to the ball

The player is in an offside position only if he is the only one between the last opponent and the ball.

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 3

Step 3. Keep an eye on the two defenders closest to the other team's goal

The attacker will have playing conditions when there are at least two defenders on the same line or in front of him; when one or no opponent is between the attacker and the goal, the attacker is offside.

Generally, the goalkeeper is one of the two defenders, but two players from the other team – regardless of position – will count

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 4

Step 4. Offside should only be observed when a teammate touches the ball

There is no infraction just for being between the goal and the last defender (not counting the goalkeeper); the referee will make the appointment only when a player from the same team touches the ball. Once the pass is made, this is when the offside condition should or should not be marked, regardless of the attacker's position when the pass reaches his feet. This only changes if the ball happens to touch another player of the same team – causing the offside position to be “calculated” again – or when an opposing player touches, removing the offside condition.

That's why attackers try to overtake defenders as soon as the pass is made. If the ball lands at the attacker's feet and he is in front of the defenders, the position is legal as he was behind them when the pass was made

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 5

Step 5. The infraction will only be flagged if the offside player participates in the rally

The referee may only penalize him if he interferes with the play or tries to take advantage of being in an irregular condition, and may be penalized at any time until the opposing team takes control of the ball. Here are some examples of situations where the judge may appoint an offside:

  • Pass made to an offside teammate.
  • A player kicks the ball into goal. At the moment of the kick, there is a player from the same team who is offside. The ball deflects into an opponent and reaches the player who was offside at the time of submission. The infraction must be flagged.
  • An offside player disputes the ball with a defender.
  • A player kicks into the goal. At this point, a teammate is in an offside position to try to catch the rebound. The offense must be flagged if the ball does not enter the goal directly and is dominated by the offside player.
Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 6

Step 6. Pay attention to the referee

When watching the game and suspect that there may be an offside, keep an eye on the assistant referee (the popular “flags”). If he thinks there is an offside player interfering with the play, he will raise the flag up. The referee will whistle, stopping play and raising his arm up, indicating that an indirect free kick has been taken for the defending team. The referee is the ultimate authority for the game, so he can disagree with the assistant and let the play proceed if he thinks it right.

When the referee blows the whistle, the assistant will lower the flag, signaling the offside attacker. The move will be made at 45° if the player is in front of the "flag", but on the other side of the field, 90° when near the center of the lawn and 135° if he is nearby

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 7

Step 7. Understand the penalty

When the offside irregularity is flagged, the defending team will have an indirect free kick to take. The kick will be taken at the place of the offside, with the offending team staying at least 9.15 m away until the ball is put back into play.

  • When the offside occurs within the penalty area, the offending team must stay out of it until the ball leaves the penalty area.
  • The offside can be taken anywhere in the area when the offside is marked within it.

Method 2 of 2: Exceptions and Interpretive Cases

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 8

Step 1. Know in which situations there is no impediment

A player is never offside after taking a corner, kick-in or goal kick. On these occasions, the ball was out of play, “restarting” all offside situations.

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 9

Step 2. Understand when the offside situation “goes away”

When the defensive team regains possession of the ball, the offside attackers no longer have the condition; now, they can go back to interfering with the plays without the infraction being flagged. However, there are some cases where the referee's interpretation is valid, as it is not always clear that the defending team has regained possession of the ball or is in contention. The final decision rests with the judge, but the guidelines, in general terms, are as follows:

  • If a defender accidentally swerves or the ball bounces over to an attacker, it is necessary to observe whether or not he was offside at the time of the kick. Deflecting a defender does not remove the offside position, regardless of the defender's intention to deflect the ball, always being a complicated marking for the referee to make.
  • When the defender plays to save a goal and the ball goes to an attacker who was offside at the time of submission, there is an offside. This prevents the attackers from getting too close to the goal, taking advantage.
  • The defender must gain control of the ball before the offside player can rejoin the game. This can be subjective, but if the attacker in an irregular position was far from the ball, it is rare for a referee to call an offside this long.
Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 10

Step 3. Take into account the defenders who left the field

When a defender goes off the end line for some reason, he still counts as a player regarding the offside position or not.

Understand Offside in Soccer (Football) Step 11

Step 4. Offside players who interfere indirectly are also considered irregular

The offside must be marked even if the offside attacker does not participate directly in the play and interferes with the goalkeeper's vision when there is a shot from outside the area, for example. Since a minor rule change in 2013, this is the only way where an offside player who does not participate in the play can break the rule, causing the referee to call the offside. Gestures and shouts do not violate the offside rules, but if the judge considers that there was unsportsmanlike interference in the play, he may cancel it - especially if the offender was benefited - and mark a foul against the team with the player who presented such conduct.


  • The offside rule applies to any player, not only for attackers.
  • Sometimes the offside rule is misunderstood when the goalkeeper leaves the goal – in a free kick, for example – and there is still a defender behind him. When an offensive player receives the ball behind the goalkeeper, he is always offside (even if there is a defender in front of him). One example is the disallowed goal by Carlos Vela of Mexico against South Africa in the 2010 World Cup.
  • In games with children or amateurs, the referee can either ignore this rule or apply it more leniently.
  • The offside rule has been changed several times in history, often affecting the way football was played.


  • Never argue with the referee. It won't reverse the tag just because you don't agree with it. Most likely, he will be annoyed and may even apply a yellow card and not “relieve” you in future situations in the match.
  • Strikers should be careful with the “offside line”, where the opponent's defense comes out of play when the ball is about to be put into play. By always moving and facing your own goal while waiting for the pass, you'll complicate life for the opposing defense, I'm surprised by the attack.

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