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A Short Glossary of All the Soccer Terms and Player Positions

Without a doubt, soccer continues to be the most widely followed, played, and loved game in the world. Here's a glossary of soccer terms which will help you understand the beautiful game better.
Arjun Kulkarni
Last Updated: Oct 06, 2017
I guess it would be safe to say that more countries in the world follow soccer than any other sport. This is mostly because soccer is one of the simplest games in the world to understand as well as to play. Soccer also requires little equipment. But before you start, it would be a good idea for you to go through these basic soccer terms, the meaning of which any footballer ought to know about!
Terms Related to Player Positions
The goalkeeper is the player who guards the goal. The goalkeeper is also the only player on the pitch who is allowed to touch the ball with his hands in the penalty area.
Defenders are responsible for stopping the opposition team from scoring. Defenders are usually split into center backs and full backs.
Full Backs
Full backs or wing backs play on the right and left flanks of the defense. They are entrusted with two tasks. The first, is to ensure that the attacking players from the wide ends of the pitch are dealt with, and the second is to bring the ball forward to facilitate attacking play. The right back is the full back who plays on the right of the two center backs, and the left back plays on the left.
Center Backs
Center backs, or the central defenders, form the heart of the defense. They are positioned in the center of the defense line, and they are given the task of stopping the opposition attackers from running at the goal and scoring. Most teams today play with two center backs, although there was a time when teams fielded just the one center back (then known as a 'sweeper').
The midfielders are the players that play at the center of the field, between the defense and the attack. The midfielder was traditionally entrusted with the task of bringing the ball from the defense and passing it to the attacking players. Midfielders are further classified according to their specific functions as defensive midfielders, attacking midfielders, wingers, and playmakers.
Defensive Midfielders
Defensive midfielders act as a screen for the defenders. They generally operate in the center of the pitch, and tackle the opposition attacking players. The role of the defensive midfielder has grown into prominence of late, and they operate as the first line of defense.
Attacking Midfielders
Attacking midfielders generally come forward from the midfield, and assist the strikers to help them score goals. They try to penetrate the defense, and create chances for the strikers.
Wingers play on the right and left flanks of the pitch. They generally bring the ball forward from the defense, and either cross it into the path of the attacking players or run into the center, towards the goal. Their role is basically to hug the sidelines and run forward with the ball.
Few teams are lucky enough to have an efficient playmaker. He has the vision and ability to control the tempo of the game, and helps the team by making important assists. The playmaker generally dictates the flow of the game.
Inside Forward
The traditional inside forward is on the wane now. The inside forward was generally stationed between the strikers and the midfielder.
The striker is employed by the team to go forward and score goals. He should be a good finisher, converting good crosses and passes into goals. Earlier, it was preferred that the strikers be big in size, but now this has changed with the game. Strikers today are smaller, quicker, and weave through the defenders.
Terms Related to Player Formation
The 3-5-2 is one of the older formations that is very rarely used these days. In a 3-5-2, the team played with just the one center back (sweeper), two full backs, five midfielders, and 2 strikers.
The 4-4-2 is perhaps the most common formation seen in football today, and is widely followed, basically because of its tactical simplicity. The 4-4-2 has two center backs and two full backs in the defense, four midfielders, of which one or two may be defensive midfielders, and two strikers.
The 4-3-3 is generally seen as an aggressive formation. There are several different ways of playing in the 4-3-3 formation. Either way, the defense is composed the same way as it is in the 4-4-2. The 4-3-3 has three midfielders, of which only one may be played defensively. The three forward players can be arranged with two strikers, and one playmaker behind them; or with one striker and two attacking midfielders behind him.
The 4-3-2-1 or the pyramid formation is again a very rarely used formation, owing to its 'narrowness'. The 4-3-2-1 has the usual four defenders, three defensive midfielders, two attacking midfielders, and one striker. It is a narrow formation, as there are no real out-and-out wingers to man the flanks, and hence, the full backs are expected to get forward and cover the area on the wings. This may give the opposition the chance to exploit the flanks on the counter attack.
Narrower, and more balanced than the 4-3-2-1, this formation gives a bit more width, as it fields three attacking midfielders and two defensive ones. But having two defensive midfielders can sometimes slow the tempo of the game, and make it far too defensive.
Also known as the 'diamond', this formation is an effective formation, although narrow, and relatively less popular. The 4-2-1-2-1 has a diamond at the front with one striker at the front tip, two more strikers behind him, and one playmaker behind the two second strikers at the lower tip of the diamond. Two defensive midfielders play behind the diamond.
Known as the W-M, because if the formation was drawn on the pitch, it would look like the players are arranged as the two letters. The W-M has three strikers, two attacking midfielders, two more midfielders just behind them, and 3 defenders. This formation is rarely used today.
If you look it up in a dictionary, it vaguely means 'door-bolt'. This formation uses five defenders. It is known as the door bolt, because the door to the goal is rammed shut by the five defenders. The Catenaccio again is a very sparingly used formation.
Terms Related to Pitch Dimensions
Center Line
The center line is the line drawn across the pitch which divides its length into two equal parts.
Center Spot
The center spot is the spot at the center of the center line, and is the spot from which the teams kick off at the start of either half of the game, or once a goal has been scored.
Corner Arc
The corner arc is the demarcated area on the corners of the pitch from where the corner kicks are taken.
Penalty Area
Also known as the 18-yard box, the penalty area is a rectangular area in front of the goal, where, if a foul is made by the team defending that goal, leads to a penalty kick for the opposition team. This area is also the only part of the pitch where the goalkeeper is allowed to touch the ball with his hands.
Penalty Spot
The penalty spot is a spot in front of the goal from which the penalty kick is taken.
Other Basic Terms and Rules
A foul is generally a move deemed illegal by the referee. Common fouls include handling the ball, injuring, or trying to injure an opposition player in an attempt to take the ball away from him.
Corner Kick
A corner kick is a method of restarting the play. A corner kick is awarded to a team when the ball crosses the goal line after touching the defending player, and without scoring a goal. A corner kick is taken from the corner arc.
Free Kick
A free kick is a kick taken by the player of a team which has been fouled. The opposition players aren't allowed to obstruct the player taking a free kick. The free kick need not be taken by the player who has been fouled, and can be taken by any person from his team.
Penalty Kick
When a clear foul is committed by the defending team inside their penalty box, a penalty kick is given to the attacking team. The penalty kick is taken directly from the penalty spot, and only the goalkeeper is allowed to defend it. The penalty kick need not be taken by the player who has been fouled, and can be taken by any player from the team.
If the referee sees a player making too many fouls, he has to ensure that the player is cautioned. Ignoring the caution, and continuing to commit fouls results in a yellow or a red card, depending on the nature of the foul.
Yellow Card
A yellow card is given by the referee to a player as a caution for a foul deemed to be serious. A player receiving two yellow cards in one game is given a red card, and is automatically sent off the field.
Red Card
A red card is given by the referee either after two successive yellow cards in one game or if he deems a foul so serious that a red card is the commensurate punishment. A player receiving a red card either directly or as a result of two yellow cards is 'sent off', and is no longer allowed to participate in the game. The team whose player is sent off has to play with 10 players.
An assist is the last pass made by a player before the goal is scored.
A player who has the ball is said to be in possession of the ball.
A header is when the player touches the ball with his head.
A tackle is when a player makes an effort to get the ball from an opposition player who has possession.
The number of caps a player has, is the number of times a player has represented his club/country.
A cross is a pass made from one wing of the pitch towards the forwards in the penalty area.
Extra Time
When the score is level for a knockout game (not a league game), two halves of 15 minutes each is added as extra time. If the scores are still level at the end of extra time, the game goes into a penalty shootout.
A formation is the shape in which the players of a team are arranged.
Half-time is the break which separates the first half from the second half. A half-time is 15 minutes long
When a player touches the ball with his hands, it is called a handball.
A player is said to score a hat-trick when he scores three goals in one game.
Injury Time
Injury time/Stoppage Time is the time added at the end of each half to account for stoppages in play due to injuries, fouls, etc.
The kickoff marks the start of a game.
A player is said to be offside when he is closer to the opposition's goal than the opposition defenders, when his teammate passes the ball to him, and is in the opposition half of the pitch. This foul ensures that the forwards don't stay back in the opposition side and wait for the pass.
Penalty Shootout
If in a knockout game, the scores of both teams are still tied, there is a penalty shootout, where each team is given five penalty shots. The team that scores more penalties, wins.
The referee is the person employed to watch over the game, and ensure that the game is played within the footballing rules.
The linesman is the one who checks and tells the referee which team took the last touch before the ball went out. The linesman also decides the offside call, and in some instances, fouls that may have been overlooked by the referee.
Set Piece
A free kick, corner, or a penalty is known as a set piece.
So, this was a comprehensive glossary of soccer terms, which ought to get you to understand the basics of the game. Soccer is an exciting game, so now that you know the terms, go on and have fun!