In soccer, referee holds all the cards


The Language of Soccer

If the U.S. men’s soccer team has made you a fan of soccer for the first time, you might not understand everything you’re seeing and hearing during the World Cup television broadcasts.

The following glossary might help you understand the game a little better and save the person next to you at the bar from having to explain what just happened.

Free kick: Awarded to a team after a penalty.

Direct kick: A free kick in which a shot on goal is attempted.

Indirect kick: A free kick in which the target is not the goal frame.

Wall: A group of two to five players attempting to block the free kick. They usually stand shoulder to shoulder.

10 yards: The distance the wall must stand from the free-kick attempt.

Penalty area: Also known as the 18-yard box, the large box in front of the goal.

Penalty spot: A dot inside the penalty area from which a penalty shot is attempted.

Penalty kick: Awarded after a foul inside the penalty box, a single attacking player shoots at the goal from the penalty spot. Also known as a PK or penalty.

Yellow card: Warning issued by referee for a violent tackle or unsportsmanlike conduct. Two yellow cards lead to an automatic red card. Also known as a booking or “being booked.”

Red card: Issued by referee to eject a player from the game. No substitute may be added after a player receives a red card. Often includes a one-game suspension.

Straight red: Issued by referee for a particularly egregious violation of the rules without a previous yellow card.

World Cup comments overheard in a local sports bar:

“When the referee holds up a card, does the team score points? This makes less sense than rugby.”

“There’s a red card and a yellow card; is there an orange card, too?”

Although the answer to both of those questions is no, there’s a great deal of confusion among new soccer fans regarding how and why a referee doles out yellow and red cards.

Short answer: It’s entirely at the referees’s discretion.

The yellow card serves as a warning. A referee may “book” a player with a yellow card for any number of reasons, but the two most common are for unsportsmanlike conduct and violent or reckless tackles.

What a referee deems worthy of a yellow card is as varied as the men behind the whistle. Two yellow lead to a red card, which ejects a player from the game, and often carries a one-game suspension.

Once a player receives a red card, the offending team may not substitute for that player, and the game resumes with one team playing a man down.

A “straight red” — when the referee bypasses the first yellow card to immediately eject a player — is also at the referee’s discretion.

An intentional hand ball, when the defender uses his hand to block a crossing pass or shot, will almost certainly draw a red card.

Sliding tackles from behind, especially during breakaways, will more often than not lead to a red card.

Exceptionally violent tackles, when a player makes no attempt at the ball, can draw red cards. Any violent play away from the ball, such as Portugal defender Pepe head-butting a Ghana player early in the World Cup, will produce a red card.

Oftentimes a not-so-rough tackle in the penalty area — also known as the 18-yard box — will lead to a booking.

Those fouls will also lead to a penalty kick.

While the player attempts the penalty kick, no player except the opposing goalie is allowed in the penalty area until the ball is struck.

Taylor Chaffetz, a midfielder for Grand Junction High School and a University of Kansas recruit, said there are few moments more nerve-wracking than a penalty kick.

“The penalty is a scary place to say the least,” Chaffetz said in an email to The Daily Sentinel. “Missing a PK is probably the worst feeling in the whole world. I’ve only missed one PK, and I’m pretty certain we lost that game.

“All I can say is that by winning or losing a game because of a PK is hard because its practically just a goal given to you.”


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