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A Layman's Guide to the Offside Rule in Soccer

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and it doesn't really need any kind of introduction. The game is easy to play, if you understand the basic rules. One of them is the offside rule, which I am endeavoring to explain here...
Rutuja Jathar
Last Updated: Oct 06, 2017
Sometimes you do tend to feel, Oh, he was so close! What was the whistle for? The simple answer is, the player was stopped because he was offside.
The definition of offside as explained in the official 'FIFA book of soccer rules'―the player is in an offside position because he is nearer to his opponent's goal line, than both the ball and the second last opponent. Offside rule is the law in soccer that limits the exploring span of the forward attacking player, when he is involved in the play. The player cannot grab the ball, when there are less than two opponents present between him and the goalpost. Soccer offside application takes place in three ways, namely the offside position, the offside offense and the offside sanction.
Let me explain the basic signs to highlight the offside rule:
  • The attacking player must have at least one defender and the goalkeeper (or another player) between him and the goalpost.
  • The offside position is determined when the ball is actually kicked and not on the position of the player, when he receives the ball.
  • The attacking player must be in front of the ball to be considered offside.
  • The attacking player must be over the half-line mark, and the half-line rule is not allowed on throw-in balls.
A player is not offside in case of the following cases:
  • If the player is in his own half of the ground.
  • If the player doesn't get past the second-last opponent, usually the goalie (when the goalie is outside the goalpost).
  • If a player receives the ball directly from the throw-in, corner kick, or goal kick.
The offside rule makes the game of soccer a bit complex, because the player can be in the 'offside position' without actually being 'offside'.
Two important things to know to be considered offside, are:
  • The player must be involved in the play, by either interfering with the game or the opponent, or when he is taking advantage of being in the offside position. This is also known as an 'offside offense'.
  • The player must be in the offside position when the ball is actually played by his fellow team member. He must be in the defender's half, closer to the defender's goal line than both the ball and the second-last defending opponent.
Offside Trap
This is a specifically used tactic by the defending team to stop the opponent's attack. A well-planned trap is set to trap the opponent in the offside position. When the opponent starts his run-up in the hope of getting the ball from his fellow teammate, all the defending players, except the goalie, move up intentionally, in a comparatively straight line. This brings the attacking player in the offside position, whether he intended to or not. If the defenders fail to capitalize on the chance, then there won't be anyone except the goalkeeper between the opponent and the goal post. This can prove disastrous to the defending team.
Offside Sanction
The foul for an offside offense is an indirect free kick. This free kick is taken from where the offense actually took place. It is important to remember, that the offside rule does not exist for free kicks. The seemingly difficult 'offside rule' is made to prevent teams from keeping a player in an offensive position and gain any unfair advantage through it.