Association football, soccer or simply football is a team sport played between two teams each consisting of 11 players and is widely considered to be the most popular sport in the world. It is a ball game played on a rectangular grass field (or occasionally on an artificial pitch) with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by maneuvering the ball into the opposing goal. The predominant feature of the sport is that players other than the goalkeepers may not use their hands or arms to propel the ball in general play. The winner is the team that has scored more goals at the end of the match.
The modern game developed in England following the formation of the Football Association, whose 1863 set of rules created the foundations for the way the sport is played today. Football is governed internationally by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The most prestigious international football competition is the World Cup, which is also the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world.
Nature of the game
Football is played in accordance with a set of rules, known as the Laws of the Game. The game is played using a single round ball (the football), and two teams of eleven players each compete to get the ball into the other team's goal, thereby scoring a goal. The team that has scored more goals at the conclusion of the game is the winner; if both teams have scored an equal number of goals then the game is a draw.
The primary rule is that the players (other than the goalkeepers) may not intentionally touch the ball with their hands or arms during play (though they do use their hands during a throw-in restart). Although players mainly use their feet to move the ball around, they may use any part of their bodies other than their hands or arms.
In typical game play, players attempt to propel the ball toward their opponents' goal through individual control of the ball, such as by dribbling (running with the ball close to their feet), passing the ball to a team-mate, and by taking shots at the goal, which is guarded by the opposing goalkeeper. Opposing players may try to regain control of the ball by intercepting a pass or through tackling the opponent who controls the ball; however, physical contact between opponents is restricted. Football is generally a free-flowing game, with the ball in play at all times except when it has left the field of play, or when play has been stopped by the referee. After a stoppage, play recommences with a specified restart.
At a professional level, most matches produce only a few goals. For example, during the English 2005-06 season of the FA Premier League, an average of 2.48 goals per match were scored.
The Laws of the Game do not specify any player positions other than goalkeeper, but a number of player specialisations have evolved. Broadly, these include three main categories: strikers, or forwards, whose main task is to score goals; defenders, who specialise in preventing their opponents from scoring; and midfielders, who dispossess the opposition and keep possession of the ball in order to pass it to the forwards; players in these positions are referred to as outfield players, in order to discern them from the single goalkeeper. These positions are further differentiated by which side of the field the player spends most time in. For example, there are central defenders, and left and right midfielders. The ten outfield players may be arranged in these positions in any combination (for example, there may be four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards, or three defenders, three midfielders, and four forwards), and the number of players in each position determines the style of the team's play; more forwards and fewer defenders would create a more aggressive and offensive-minded game, while the reverse would create a slower, more defensive style of play. While players may spend most of the game in a specific position, there are few restrictions on player movement, and players can switch positions at any time. The layout of the players on the pitch is called the team's formation, and defining the team's formation and tactics is usually the prerogative of the team's manager.
History and development
Games revolving around the kicking of a ball have been played in many countries through history. The earliest documented version is the Mesoamerica ballgame, played by the Olmec as early as 1500 BCE. The Chinese game Cuju is mentioned in military manuals from the time of the Qin Dynasty (255–206 BCE). Other ancient ball games include kemari in Japan and the Roman game Harpastum. Various forms of mob football were played in medieval Europe, though rules varied greatly by both period and location.
The rules of football as they are codified today are based on mid-19th century efforts to standardise the widely varying forms of football played at the public schools of England. The first set of rules resembling the modern game were produced at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1848, at a meeting attended by representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury schools, but they were not universally adopted. During the 1850s, many clubs unconnected to schools or universities were formed throughout the English-speaking world to play various forms of football. Some came up with their own distinct codes of rules, most notably the Sheffield Football Club (formed by former pupils from Harrow) in 1857, which led to formation of a Sheffield FA in 1867. In 1862, John Charles Thring of Uppingham School also devised an influential set of rules.
These efforts contributed to the formation of The Football Association (The FA) in 1863 which first met on the morning of 26 October 1863 at the Freemason's Tavern in Great Queen Street, London. The only school to be represented on this occasion was Charterhouse. The Freemason's Tavern was the setting for five more meetings between October and December, which eventually produced the first comprehensive set of rules. At the final meeting, the first FA treasurer, the representative from Blackheath, withdrew his club from the FA over the removal of two draft rules at the previous meeting, the first which allowed for the running with the ball in hand and the second, obstructing such a run by hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins), tripping and holding. Other English rugby clubs followed this lead and did not join the FA but instead in 1871 formed the Rugby Football Union. The eleven remaining clubs, under the charge of Ebenezer Cobb Morley, went on to ratify the original fourteen rules of the game. Despite this, the Sheffield FA played by its own rules until the 1870s.
Today the laws of the game are determined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The Board was formed in 1886 after a meeting in Manchester of The Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, the Football Association of Wales, and the Irish Football Association. The world's oldest football competition is the FA Cup, which has been contested by English teams since 1872. England is also home to the world's first football league, which was founded in 1888 by Aston Villa director William McGregor. The original format contained 12 clubs from the Midlands and the North of England. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international football body, was formed in Paris in 1904 and declared that they would adhere to Laws of the Game of the Football Association.  The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. The board currently consists of four representatives from FIFA and one representative from each of the four British associations.
Today, football is played at a professional level all over the world, and millions of people regularly go to football stadia to follow their favourite team, whilst billions more watch the game avidly on television. A very large number of people also play football at an amateur level. According to a survey conducted by FIFA and published in the spring of 2001, over 240 million people regularly play football in more than 200 countries in every part of the world. Its simple rules and minimal equipment requirements have no doubt aided its spread and growth in popularity.
In many parts of the world football evokes great passions and plays an important role in the life of individual fans, local communities, and even nations; it is therefore often claimed to be the most popular sport in the world. ESPN has spread the claim that the Côte d'Ivoire national football team helped secure a truce to the nation's civil war in 2005. By contrast, however, football is widely considered to be the final proximate cause in the Football War in June 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. The sport also exacerbated tensions at the beginning of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, when a Red Star Belgrade-at-Dinamo Zagreb match devolved into rioting in March 1990.
Laws of the Game
Overview of the Laws
There are seventeen Laws in the official Laws of the Game. The same Laws are designed to apply to all levels of football, although certain modifications for groups such as juniors, seniors or women are permitted. The Laws are often framed in broad terms, which allow flexibility in their application depending on the nature of the game. In addition to the seventeen Laws, numerous IFAB decisions and other directives contribute to the regulation of football. The Laws can be found on the official FIFA website.
Players, equipment and officials
Each team consists of a maximum of eleven players (excluding substitutes), one of whom must be the goalkeeper. Competition rules may state a minimum number of players required to constitute a team; this is usually seven. Goalkeepers are the only players allowed to play the ball with their hands or arms, but they are only allowed to do so within the penalty area in front of their own goal. Though there are a variety of positions in which the outfield (non-goalkeeper) players are strategically placed by a manager or coach, these positions are not defined or required by the Laws.
The basic equipment players are required to wear includes a shirt, shorts, socks, footwear and adequate shin guards. Players are forbidden to wear or use anything that is dangerous to themselves or another player (including jewellery or watches). The goalkeeper must wear clothing that is easily distinguishable from that worn by the other players and the match officials.
A number of players may be replaced by substitutes during the course of the game. The maximum number of substitutions permitted in most competitive international and domestic league games is three, though the number permitted may be varied in other leagues or in friendly matches. Common reasons for a substitution include injury, tiredness, ineffectiveness, a tactical switch, or as a defensive ploy to use up a little time at the end of a finely poised game. In standard adult matches, a player who has been substituted may not take further part in the match.
A game is officiated by a referee, who has "full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match to which he has been appointed" (Law 5), and whose decisions are final. The referee is assisted by two assistant referees. In many high-level games there is also a fourth official (and in the world cup a fifth official), who assist(s) the referee and may replace another official should the need arise.
Due to the original formulation of the Laws in England and the early supremacy of the four British football associations within IFAB, the standard dimensions of a football pitch were originally expressed in imperial units. The Laws now express dimensions with approximate metric equivalents (followed by traditional units in brackets), though popular use tends to continue to use traditional units.
The length of the rectangular field (pitch) specified for international adult matches is in the range 100-110 m (110-120 yards) and the width is in the range 65-75 m (70-80 yards). Fields for non-international matches may be 100-130 yards length and 50-100 yards in width. The longer boundary lines are touchlines or sidelines, while the shorter boundaries (on which the goals are placed) are goal lines. On the goal line at each end of the field a rectangular goal is centred. The inner edges of the vertical goal posts must be 8 yards (7.32 m) apart, and the lower edge of the horizontal crossbar supported by the goal posts must be 8 feet (2.44 m) above the ground. Nets are usually placed behind the goal, but are not required by the Laws.
In front of each goal is an area of the field known as the penalty area (colloquially "penalty box", "18 yard box" or simply "the box"). This area is marked by the goal-line, two lines starting on the goal-line 18 yards (16.5 m) from the goalposts and extending 18 yards into the pitch perpendicular to the goal-line, and a line joining them. This area has a number of functions, the most prominent being to mark where the goalkeeper may handle the ball and where a penal foul by a defender becomes punishable by a penalty kick.
The field has other field markings and defined areas; these are described in the main article above.
Duration and tie-breaking methods
A standard adult football match consists of two periods of 45 minutes each, known as halves. There is usually a 15-minute "half-time". The end of the match is known as full-time.
The referee is the official timekeeper for the match, and may make an allowance for time lost through substitutions, injured players requiring attention, or other stoppages. This added time is commonly referred to as stoppage time or injury time. The amount of time is at the sole discretion of the referee, and the referee alone signals when the match has been completed. In matches where a fourth official is appointed, toward the end of the half the referee will signal how many minutes remain to be played, and the fourth official then signals this to players and spectators by holding up a board showing this number.
In league competitions games may end in a draw, but in some knockout competitions if a game is tied at the end of regulation time it may go into extra time, which consists of two further 15-minute periods. If the score is still tied after extra time, some competitions allow the use of penalty shootouts (known officially in the Laws of the Game as "kicks from the penalty mark") to determine which team will progress to the next stage of the tournament. Goals scored during extra time periods count toward the final score of the game, but kicks from the penalty mark are only used to decide the team that progresses to the next part of the tournament (with goals scored in a penalty shootout not making up part of the final score).
Competitions held over two legs (in which each team plays at home once) may use the away goals rule to attempt to determine which team progresses in the event of an equal aggregate scoreline. If the result is still equal following this calculation kicks from the penalty mark are usually required, though some competitions may require a tied game to be replayed.
In the late 1990s, the IFAB experimented with ways of making matches more likely to end without requiring a penalty shootout, which was often seen as an undesirable way to end a match. These involved rules ending a game in extra time early, either when the first goal in extra time was scored (golden goal), or if one team held a lead at the end of the first period of extra time (silver goal). Golden goal was used at the World Cup in 1998 (France) and 2002 (Japan-South Korea). The first World Cup game decided by a golden goal was France's victory over Paraguay in 1998. In Euro 1996, Germany was the first nation to score a golden goal in a major competition, beating Czech Republic in the final. Silver goal was used in Euro 2004 (Portugal). Both these experiments have been discontinued by IFAB.
Ball in and out of play
Under the Laws, the two basic states of play during a game are ball in play and ball out of play. From the beginning of each playing period with a kick-off (a set kick from the centre-spot by one team) until the end of the playing period, the ball is in play at all times, except when either the ball leaves the field of play, or play is stopped by the referee. When the ball becomes out of play, play is restarted by one of eight restart methods, the method used depending on the reason for the ball going out of play:
A direct free kick taken by IFK Göteborg (in blue and white).
Kick-off: following a goal by the opposing team, or to begin each period of play.
Throw-in: when the ball has wholly crossed the touchline; awarded to opposing team to that which last touched the ball.
Goal kick: when the ball has wholly crossed the goal line without a goal having been scored and having last been touched by an attacker; awarded to defending team.
Corner kick: when the ball has wholly crossed the goal line without a goal having been scored and having last been touched by a defender; awarded to attacking team.
Indirect free kick: awarded to the opposing team following "non-penal" fouls, certain technical infringements, or when play is stopped to caution/send-off an opponent without a specific foul having occurred.
Direct free kick: awarded to fouled team following certain listed "penal" fouls.
Penalty kick: awarded to the fouled team following a "penal" foul occurring in their opponent's penalty area.
Dropped-ball: occurs when the referee has stopped play for any other reason (e.g., a serious injury to a player, interference by an external party, or a ball becoming defective). This restart is uncommon in adult games.
Fouls and misconduct
A foul occurs when a player commits a specific offence listed in the Laws of the Game when the ball is in play. The offences that constitute a foul are listed in Law 12. Handling the ball, tripping an opponent, or pushing an opponent, are examples of "penal fouls", punishable by a direct free kick or penalty kick depending on where the offence occurred. Other fouls are punishable by an indirect free kick.
The referee may punish a player or substitute's misconduct by a caution (yellow card) or sending-off (red card). Misconduct may occur at any time, and while the offences that constitute misconduct are listed, the definitions are broad. In particular, the offence of "unsporting behaviour" may be used to deal with most events that violate the spirit of the game, even if they are not listed as specific offences.
Rather than stopping play, the referee may allow play to continue when its continuation will benefit the team against which an offence has been committed. This is known as "playing an advantage". The referee may "call back" play and penalise the original offence if the anticipated advantage does not ensue within a short period of time, typically taken to be four to five seconds. Even if an offence is not penalised because the referee plays an advantage, the offender may still be sanctioned for any associated misconduct at the next stoppage of play.
Football (soccer) tactics and skills
Football (soccer) positions
The recognised international governing body of football (and associated games, such as futsal and beach soccer) is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The FIFA headquarters are located in Zurich, Switzerland.
Six regional confederations are associated with FIFA; these are:
Asia: Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
Africa: Confederation of African Football (CAF)
Central/North America & Caribbean: Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF; also known as The Football Confederation)
Europe: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
Oceania: Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
South America: Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation; CONMEBOL)
The recognised various national associations (see football around the world) oversee football within their jurisdictions. These are affiliated both with FIFA directly and also with their respective continental confederations.
The Laws of the Game are not maintained by FIFA itself; rather they are maintained by the International Football Association Board, as discussed in the history and development section above.
Major international competitions
The major international competition in football is the World Cup, organised by FIFA. This competition takes place over a four-year period. More than 190 national teams compete in qualifying tournaments within the scope of continental confederations for a place in the finals. The finals tournament, which is held every four years, now involves 32 national teams (increased in 1998 from the 24 of 1994) competing over a four-week period. The 2006 FIFA World Cup took place in Germany ; in 2010 it will be held in South Africa.
There has been a football tournament at every Summer Olympic Games since 1900, except at the 1932 games in Los Angeles. Prior to the inception of the World Cup, the Olympics (especially during the 1920s) had the same status as the World Cup. Originally, the event was for amateurs only, however, since the 1984 Summer Olympics professionals have been permitted as well, albeit with certain restrictions which effectively prevent countries from fielding their strongest sides. Currently, the Olympic men's tournament is played at Under-23 level. In the past the Olympics have allowed a restricted number of over-age players per team; but that practice will cease in the 2008 Olympics. The Olympic competition is not generally considered to carry the same international significance and prestige as the World Cup. A women's tournament was added in 1996; in contrast to the men's event, the women's Olympic tournament is played by full international sides without age restrictions. It thus carries international prestige considered comparable to that of the FIFA Women's World Cup.
After the World Cup, the most important football competitions are the continental championships, which are organised by each continental confederation and contested between national teams. These are the European Championship (UEFA), the Copa América (CONMEBOL), African Cup of Nations (CAF), the Asian Cup (AFC), the CONCACAF Gold Cup (CONCACAF) and the OFC Nations Cup (OFC). The most prestigious competitions in club football are the respective continental championships, which are generally contested between national champions, for example the UEFA Champions League in Europe and the Copa Libertadores de América in South America.
The governing bodies in each country operate leagues, themselves normally comprised of several divisions, in which the teams gain points throughout the season depending on results. Teams are placed into tables, placing them in order according to points accrued. Most commonly, each team plays every other team in its league at home and away in each season. At the end of a season, the top team are declared to be the champions, and the top few teams may be promoted to a higher division; and one or more of the teams finishing at the bottom are relegated to a lower division. The teams finishing at the top of a country's league may be eligible also to play in international club competitions in the following season. The main exceptions to this system occur in some South American leagues, which divide football championships into two sections named Apertura and Clausura, awarding a champion for each.
In addition to a league system, most countries operate one or more cup competitions during the season. These are organised on a knock-out basis, the winner of each match proceeding to the next round; the loser takes no further part in the competition. For a full list of the most important football competitions in each country, see football (soccer) around the world.
Names of the game
The rules of football were codified in England by the Football Association in 1863, and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other forms of football played at the time, specifically rugby football. The term soccer first appeared in the 1880s as a slang abbreviation of Association football, often credited to Charles Wreford-Brown.
Today the sport is known by a number of names throughout the English-speaking world, the most common being football and soccer. The term used depends largely on the need to differentiate the sport from other codes of football followed in a community. Football is the term used by FIFA, the sport's world governing body, and the International Olympic Committee. For more details of naming throughout the world, please refer to the main articles above.