What Is Considered A Foul In Soccer?

Soccer Fouls

In soccer, fouls are considered to be any actions that violate the rules of the game or endanger the safety of other players. There are a wide variety of fouls that players can be found guilty of, and these fouls come with various punishments. Below, we examine the definition of fouls in soccer, the results of fouls, and how fouls are broken down by severity.  

Soccer Fouls Definition

In soccer, a foul or “offense” is any action that violates the Laws of the Game, which are laid out by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Fouls can be committed at various points during a match, and any player can be responsible for a foul.

Fouls can have different levels of severity in soccer. Minor fouls may result in small punishments, while more serious ones may cause a player to be cautioned with a yellow card, which is a warning against their conduct. Major fouls will result in a red card, which will cause a player to be ejected from the match.

In soccer, fouls are called and determined by the referees, who will decide whether or not a player’s conduct is deserving of a foul. The result of a foul is often a free kick for the opposing team. This can be a direct free kick, an indirect free kick. Some fouls may even result in penalty kicks. Read on to learn more about the many types of fouls and penalties in soccer!

Direct Free Kicks

Direct free kicks are awarded to the opposing team when a major foul is committed. This includes striking, shoving, kicking, or taking any physical action to deliberately harm an opponent. Handling the ball, or intentionally touching the ball with your hands, will also result in a direct kick. The term “direct” means that it can result in a goal from where it is kicked (the location of  the foul). If a foul is committed within the penalty box, it is referred to as a “penalty kick” and taken from the penalty spot in front of the goal.

Direct Free Kick Fouls

There are several actions that, when taken against an opponent, constitute direct free kick fouls, as long as they are deemed by the referee to be careless, reckless, or using excessive force. These actions include:

  • Charging an opponent
  • Jumping at an opponent
  • Kicking or attempting to kick an opponent
  • Pushing an opponent
  • Striking or attempting to strike an opponent
  • Tackling or physically challenging an opponent
  • Tripping or attempting to trip an opponent
  • Holding an opponent
  • Impeding with contact an opponent

Direct free kicks are also awarded if a player performs these actions toward any player or match official:

  • Biting an official
  • Spitting at an official
  • Throwing an object at an official

If a player throws an object the ball or contacts it with a held object, it is a direct free kick foul. Committing a handball offense is also a direct free kick foul.

Handball Fouls

A handball offense, also called handling the ball, is a direct kick foul. In soccer, players other than the goalkeeper may contact the ball with any part of their body except for their hands and their arms up to their armpits. If they do make contact with the ball using their hands or arms, it is a handball offense. Inside the penalty area, the goalkeeper may use their hands, but outside of the penalty area they are subject to the same handball rules as other players.

Indirect Free Kicks

Indirect free kicks are also taken from where the offense occurred, but cannot be counted as a goal unless it is touched by another player before going in. These are given in cases of goalie violations, such as touching the ball with their hands outside of the goalie box or after it is passed back to them by a teammate. They are also used in less serious player violations that disrupt the game and other players involved.

Indirect Free Kick Fouls

Several actions constitute indirect free kick fouls, including:

  • Playing in a dangerous manner
  • Impeding the progress of an opponent without contact
  • Dissenting or using insulting, offensive, or abusive language or behavior

There are several actions specific to goalkeepers that constitute indirect free kick fouls. If a goalkeeper does any of the following inside the penalty area it will be an indirect free kick foul:

  • Holding or controlling the ball with their hand or arm for longer than six seconds
  • Touching the ball a second time after releasing it and before it has touched another player
  • Touching the ball with a hand or arm after receiving the ball via a deliberate pass from a teammate or a throw-in from a teammate

Penalty Kicks

If a direct free kick foul is committed inside the penalty area, a penalty kick will be awarded instead of a direct free kick. The rules for a penalty kick are the same as a direct free kick, except that penalty kicks are taken from the penalty spot, a dot marked in the middle of the penalty area, instead of the spot of the foul.

Penalty Cards

Yellow And Red Cards in Soccer

In soccer, certain penalties are denoted by colored cards which the referees hold up to signify a major infraction. These cards come in two colors: yellow and red. Read on to learn what these two types of cards mean in soccer.

Yellow Cards

Yellow cards are shown to players as a warning for misconduct during the game. Some specific offenses include unsportsmanlike behavior, constant disruption of the game, or overall disrespecting the referee and laws of the game. Although they are a warning, two yellow cards in a match automatically results in a red card.

Red Cards

Red cards are a stricter means of punishment used when harsher fouls are committed by players. This entails dangerous play that deliberately violates the opponent. Red cards mean that the player’s action was serious and results in immediate removal from the game. Their team will then continue to play the rest of the game with one less player as removed players cannot be replaced by teammates.

Cautionable Fouls (Yellow Card)

Cautionable fouls are fouls in soccer that result in a player receiving a yellow card, which is a warning for reckless or unsporting behaviorIf a player receives two yellow cards in a match, they automatically receive a yellow card and are ejected from the match. Yellow card fouls are major fouls, but not as severe as red card fouls.

Some examples of cautionable fouls in soccer include, but are not limited to:

  • Delaying the resumption of play after a stoppage
  • Dissenting from the officials’ decisions, either with words or actions
  • Entering, re-entering, or leaving the pitch without permission from the referee
  • Not maintaining appropriate distance during a dropped ball, free kick, corner kick, or throw-in
  • Committing persistent offenses (the definition of “persistent” is at the officials’ discretion)
  • Coming into the Referee Review Area (RRA)
  • Using the review signal excessively
  • Excessive goal celebration

Another general category of cautionable fouls is “unsporting behavior,” which includes actions such as:

  • Attempting to deceive the referee
  • Exchanging places with the goalkeeper without permission
  • Recklessly committing a Direct Free Kick Foul
  • Making unauthorized marks on the pitch
  • Playing the ball while leaving the field
  • Verbally distracting an opponent

Sending-off Fouls (Red Card)

Sending-off fouls, or red card fouls, are violations which result in a player receiving a red card, which immediately ejects them from the match, meaning that they cannot re-enter the game. Some examples of sending-off fouls include, but are not limited to:

  • Clearly preventing the opposing team from scoring a goal via a handball foul
  • Committing a free kick offense that clearly prevents the opposing team from scoring a goal
  • Serious foul play that uses excessive force
  • Biting or spitting at another player
  • Behaving in a violent manner
  • Using foul, abusive, or offensive language
  • Engaging in offensive conduct on the pitch
  • Entering the Video Operation Room (VOR)
  • Receiving a second yellow card during a match


What is the difference between a direct free kick and an indirect free kick?

The difference between a direct free kick and an indirect free kick is that a direct free kick is permitted to result in a goal, whereas an indirect free kick must make contact with another player before legally scoring a goal. Indirect free kicks are awarded for less serious fouls. As a result their punishment is milder; while an opponent gets to take an unopposed shot, there is no possibility of an immediate and unaided goal.

What are the nine major fouls in soccer?

The nine major fouls in soccer are the nine actions that constitute a sending-off offense. If a player commits a sending-off offense, a referee will show them a red card and they must exit the match immediately, leaving their team to play a player down. The major fouls include denying a goal scoring opportunity with or without a handball, serious foul play, biting or spitting, violent conduct, receiving a second caution (yellow card), entering the video operation room (VOR), and using offensive, insulting, or abusive language or behavior.

Are there fouls in soccer?

There are four types of fouls in soccer, categorized by their related penalty. The most minor fouls are indirect free kick fouls, and direct free kick fouls are more serious, typically committed directly against an opponent. Yellow card fouls, also called cautionable offenses, are even more severe. They are committed by doing things that are violent and detrimental to the game. The most severe type of foul is a red card foul, or sending-off offense. For committing these dangerous and disrespectful violations, violators are immediately ejected from the match.