Soccer (or football as it’s known in most countries) is the most popular sport in the world. With over 4 billion fans, soccer transcends continents, cultures, and languages. However, despite its global appeal, even ardent fans need clarification on some rules. One of the trickiest for newcomers to grasp is offside. But understanding what offside is and when it’s called can give you a much deeper appreciation of the tactics and strategies that go into a match.
The Basics of Offside
At its most basic level, being offside refers to an attacking player moving beyond the second-to-last defender before the ball gets there. So if an attacker makes a run behind the defense, but a teammate passes to them before they have reached a defender, they are not offside. However, it is offside if the pass comes after they have gone beyond the defender. When offside is called, a free kick is given to the defending team.
The offside rule discourages players from cherry-picking by merely hanging around the opponent’s Goal, waiting for long passes. It aims to promote skillful play up the field rather than one long speculative lob over the top. However, getting to grips with the specifics can be complex.
The Key Elements of Offside
There are three key elements to determine offside:
The attacking player’s position is when the ball is played to them by a teammate. To be judged offside, they must be beyond the second-to-last defender (which usually includes the goalkeeper).
Involvement in Play
The attacking player must be involved in active play. Offside should not be called if they are simply in an offside position but not interfering with play.
Touching the Ball
The player must touch or attempt to touch the ball after being in the offside position for an infringement to occur. Simply being in an offside position is not enough.
All three conditions must be fulfilled for a player to be ruled offside when the ball is passed to them.
Why Offside is Important
The offside rule may seem nitpicking to newcomers, but it’s crucial for several reasons:
- Prevents Goal Hanging: It stops attackers from waiting around the opponent’s Goal for long balls and tap-ins. This encourages build-up play.
- Encourages Spread of Play: If attackers make runs from deep rather than sitting on the shoulder of the last defender, it helps spread play across the field rather than congest the box.
- Maintains Integrity of the Game: Without the offside rule, football could descend into farcical long-ball content, destroying the careful build-up play and skill that make soccer entertaining.
Common Offside Scenarios
Some common examples of offside that even experienced fans can find confusing include:
Touching but Not Playing the Ball
A player in an offside position who touches or attempts to touch the ball after a pass from a teammate is offside. But merely running towards the ball is not enough – they must make contact or an apparent attempt for offside to be called.
Deflections and Rebounds
If a player is in an onside position when the ball is struck but ends up with the ball via a deflection or rebound from a defender, they are not offside. It does not matter if they were in an offside position for the initial pass; the second touch makes them onside.
Behind Two Defenders
Some mistakenly believe offside only occurs beyond the last defender. But in fact, the offside line is the second-to-last opponent. So if an attacker is behind the last defender but ahead of another covering defender when the ball is played, it is still offside.
Who Can Be Offside?
Only attacking players can be offside. Defenders cannot drift behind the halfway line and claim to be offside. Also, players cannot be offside if they receive the ball direct from any of the following:
- A corner kick
- A throw-in
- A goal kick
So even if an attacker is beyond the defense, it is not offside if the ball comes directly to them from these restarts.
While offside may seem complex to newcomers, at its core, it aims to enhance the quality of soccer by encouraging clever build-up play rather than speculative long balls into space. Grasping the basic principles around position, involvement, and touch will help you understand why offside is called and when infringements occur. But fans will still debate refereeing decisions forever – that’s all part of the fun!
Frequently Asked Questions About Offside
1. Why do the offside rules exist?
The offside rule prevents Goal hanging and encourages the spread of play across the field. It aims to promote clever build-up rather than just speculative long balls forward.
2. What if an attacking player is behind the defense when the pass is made but runs past the defense before receiving the ball – is this offside?
No, the player’s position is judged when the pass is made, not when it is received. As long as they were onside when the ball was kicked, their subsequent movement does not matter.
3. When exactly is the offside position judged?
The precise split-second the ball leaves the foot of the passer. The position of the attackers at this moment is used to determine offside.
4. Can you be offside from a throw-in?
No, players cannot be offside from throw-ins, Goal kicks, or corner kicks. They can only be offside from open play if they receive the ball behind the second-to-last defender.
5. What if a player in an offside position does not touch the ball – is it still offside?
No, merely being in an offside position is not an offense. The player must actively or attempt to touch the ball to be penalized for offside when their teammate passes it.