We’ve all felt the rush of adrenaline that comes from watching our team’s ball go into the net, whether we’re playing the game ourselves or participating as a fan. Goals in soccer are a big deal, and goal celebrations can become iconic.
What is a goal in soccer? A goal is made when the entire ball goes between the posts and crossbar marking the goal area, as stated by Law 10 in the Laws of the Game, and a goal adds one point to the scoring team’s point tally.
A Goal – Breaking It Down
Regardless of the league or association, the game of soccer is governed by the Laws of the Game.
When we read further into Law 10, we can see that the language has two core components: that the entirety of the ball must cross into the goal area and that a foul must not have been committed in the process of getting the ball across the goal area.
Perhaps one of the most common ways that a goal is disallowed is when it is determined that the player who scored is offside.
Of course, these calls can be controversial, and whether it is valid or not, it is heartbreaking for fans and players alike when a goal is disallowed, especially in critical games or situations.
In soccer, there can be quite a lot of people around the goal area, especially on set pieces. If a member of the defending team makes contact with the ball and accidentally or purposefully kicks it in the goal area, a goal is awarded to the opposite team.
Essentially, if the ball gets fully into the goal area, the point is awarded to the team assigned to that goal area. It doesn’t really matter which team caused the ball to get there.
This is true for goalkeepers, as well. If a goalkeeper is making an attempt on the ball and touches it but, for example, loses control of it, it is considered an own goal. Additionally, if a defending player passes the ball and the goalie, for whatever reason, misses the pass, it is also considered an own goal.
Points Awarded When Goals Are Scored
When a ball does successfully cross into the goal area, the point value in soccer is one point. This can give the impression to some that soccer is a low-scoring game, but it’s critical to remember that soccer points are awarded differently than in other sports.
For example, in American football, a touchdown can be worth six, seven, or eight points. So a game that is scored 21-14 in the NFL actually translates to 3-2 scoring plays, which isn’t that different from a soccer score.
It’s also important to remember that soccer scores generally happen one at a time, whereas in other sports, they can happen in groupings. For instance, in baseball, if a player hits a home run with the bases loaded, that would add a total of four runs to the board on one play.
Although each time the ball goes into the net, the score goes up by one point, there are times in soccer where those points don’t actually count the same within a broader context.
In some types of soccer organizations that use aggregate scoring, the number of away goals can act as a tiebreaker. This means that if a team does not have home-field advantage, i.e. they’re the “away” team, any goal scored by the away team will be worth more.
For example, during the course of the tournament, if the aggregate score of the two games is equal but one team scored more away goals than the other, they would advance in the tournament or in the rankings.
This rule was first implemented in the 1965-66 European Cup and has been a key factor in determining which teams advance in several prominent tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions League Cup.
So while the in-game total remains the same, away goals can be worth significantly more overall if the two teams end up in a tie.
Away goals can also come into play in determining league standings, such as in the Premier League. Normally, a club is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The points awarded are therefore not related to the amount of goals scored, but rather the outcome of the game.
However, if teams are tied on the points ranking, tiebreakers are determined by several additional factors, of which away goals can be included.
In the Premier League, at least, away goals are the second-to-last tiebreaking criterion after the goal differential, the total goals scored, and the head-to-head points breakdown.
If the two teams are still tied after factoring all of those and the away goals, then a playoff is held at a neutral ground.
Times When Scoring is Not Permitted
It seems a bit strange that in a game where the entire objective in those 90-plus minutes is to score as many points as possible, there are some situations where teams actually aren’t allowed to score.
However, there are a few cases, with one of them being a relatively new change to the game.
- Indirect Free Kick
- Throw In
- Goalkeeper Scoring Directly With The Hands/Arms
Indirect Free Kick
If a foul is committed and the result of the foul is an indirect free kick, the player that takes the free kick is not allowed to kick it directly into the goal.
The ball must be touched by another player before going into the goal area for the goal to stand.
If the ball goes out along one of the sidelines, a throw-in is the proper procedure that gets the ball back in play.
The player who throws the ball back onto the field is not allowed to throw the ball directly into the net in an attempt to score.
In 2019, a rule was made that stipulated that a goalie was no longer allowed to throw the ball into the opposing team’s net and score a goal. They are still allowed to kick the ball all the way down the field and score a point, but this rule is an expansion of the handball rule.
Similar to a throw-in, it was ruled that a goal is not allowed if the last body part to touch it was the arm or hand. While this is physically possible, it isn’t probable, and anyway, now it is illegal.
Another Way of Scoring – Penalty Kicks
Oh, the penalty kick. It is a critical part of the game and a dreaded ritual for many fans. There are two situations where penalty kicks are used.
Certain types of fouls (generally the more serious ones) result in a penalty kick being awarded to the fouled team. It’s a one-on-one match-up between the kicking player and the goalie—usually.
The rules state that the kicking player doesn’t have to shoot for the goal, but rather that they have to only kick the ball forward. Once the ball is moving, the rest of the players are able to move from their positions behind the kicker and make plays on the ball.
Therefore, a kicker could make a small forward kick, and then his or her teammate could rush forward and attempt to score, assuming they have all sufficiently confused the goalkeeper. The person who makes that first kick on the ball isn’t allowed to touch it again until another player from either team has touched it.
This is risky, however, as the defending players can also run for the ball at the same time, and they may win the race. In 2005, Arsenal’s Thierry Henry and Robert Pires tried this method, called a tap penalty, but they were unsuccessful.
Instead, Sylvain Distin of Manchester City made a play on the ball and got it cleared away from any potential danger zone. There is also the risk that the goalkeeper won’t be fooled and will still catch the ball.
On penalty kicks, if the goalkeeper blocks the ball but doesn’t catch it, then he or she will have to contend with the rush of players charging forward to attempt a follow-up score. In that case, since the goalkeeper has touched the ball, the original kicking player is allowed to make a play on it again.
Harry Kane did just that in 2021, scoring against Denmark’s goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, on a rebound. This goal sent England to the 2020 Euro Cup finals to face Italy, where the English team lost in a penalty shoot-out.
The Penalty Shoot-Out
In games where a draw is not allowed, such as a tournament final, the penalty shoot-out is used in case of a tie at the end of regulation playing time and extra time periods. In this case, the players who are on the field at the end of time line up and kick against the goalie.
This rule leads to late substitutions during play, with managers often putting in strong penalty kickers at the last minutes so they are eligible. Thus, preparing for penalty shoot-outs is a highly strategic time during the game.
The teams take turns shooting, and each player is only allowed to take one turn at the ball. The initial rounds of a penalty shoot-out are best-of rounds, meaning that each team shoots five times, and the winner is determined by the team which gets higher out of five.
Although the teams do alternate the penalty kicks, this doesn’t determine the outcome. For instance, if one team makes all five of their shots, they will not win until the other team has attempted all five kicks, as well.
However, if it becomes mathematically impossible for a team to tie or win within those five kicks, play is suspended (if one team gets three in a row and the other scores zero, only three attempts would be taken by each team.)
If there is a draw after five kicks, the way to win changes again. It is a sudden-death round that is indefinite, only stopping when one team scores and the other misses. If both teams make it or both teams miss, they both have another attempt.
Again, this doesn’t have a criterion that states the first team to score a penalty shoot-out kick is the winner. Both teams have an equal number of chances.
In 2007, the U-21 teams for the Netherlands and England had a 32-penalty shoot-out in the semifinal match of the U-21 UEFA Cup. Eventually, the Netherlands won 13-12.
Differences to an Actual Penalty Kick
Although called a penalty shoot-out, the two types of kicks are not the same. For instance, no other player is allowed to make an attempt on the ball except for the opposing goalkeeper.
Additionally, the kicking player is not allowed to run forward to take a follow-up shot should the goalkeeper block but not catch the ball.
Although there are many different scenarios where a goal can be scored in soccer, there is really only one way to actually score.
The ball must completely cross into the goal area as designated by the goal posts, which are eight yards across and eight feet high, without a foul being committed to get it there. It’s that simple, but it is by no means an easy feat.