Scoring in association football

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A goal being scored

In games of association football teams compete to score the most goals during the match. A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over a goal line at each end of the field of play between two centrally positioned upright goal posts 24 feet (7.32 m) apart and underneath a horizontal crossbar at a height of 8 feet (2.44 m) — this frame is also referred to as a goal. Each team aims to score at one end of the pitch, while also preventing their opponents scoring at the other. Nets are usually attached to the goal frame to catch goalscoring balls.


If the line in this diagram is the goal line between the goal posts, the only case in which a goal has been scored is position D.

Rules concerning goal scoring are described in Law 10 of the Laws of the Game:

A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.

— Law 10: The Method of Scoring[1]

As with other cases of the ball travelling out of the field of play, all of the ball must cross all of the line, otherwise play continues.[2] A goal is credited to the team attacking the goal scored upon, regardless of which team actually caused the ball to enter the goal. A ball entering a goal from the action of a player defending that goal is called an own goal.

Even if serious foul play unambiguously prevents scoring a goal (a professional foul), a referee cannot award a goal if it does not enter the goal as described above; i.e., there is no provision for awarding a goal akin to the penalty try in rugby football or the goaltending offence in basketball.

A goal cannot be scored directly from an indirect free kick or a throw-in. Should the ball go into the goal from these without first being touched by another player, play is restarted with a goal kick. A player cannot score an own goal directly from any restart of play, in that case a corner kick would be awarded. Both of these situations, especially the latter, are exceedingly rare.

If there is time remaining in the session of play, after a goal has been scored play is restarted with a kick-off by the side which conceded the goal.

Deciding if a goal has been scored

Most goals are relatively unambiguous, as the ball will usually strike the net attached to the goal structure indicating that it passed the goal line as described above. Occasionally, however, situations occur where it is difficult for officials to tell if the ball completely crossed the goal line before a rebound, save, or clearance from the goal area. Additionally, even if the ball crosses the goal line as required, a goal may be disallowed if the attacking team commits an infringement of the Laws of the Game, such as the offside offence or a foul.

The sole arbiter of the rules during a game, including decisions as to whether a goal has been scored, is the referee. Referees are advised by assistant referees, whose view across the pitch from the sidelines may in some cases be more useful in determining whether the ball crossed the goal line or whether the attacking team committed an infringement.

The goal net was one of the earliest tools employed to aid match officials in determining whether a goal was scored. Introduced in the 1890s, the goal net provides a simple way to determine whether the ball passed on the correct side of the goal posts and crossbar. Although not mandated by the Laws of the Game, goal nets are now ubiquitous across most levels of organised football. Since 2012, goal-line technology has been used at the highest levels of professional football; it employs a system of cameras and sensors to provide the referee with a discreet signal when the ball has crossed the goal line.[3] The video assistant referee was added in 2018 after years of trials; this is an additional assistant referee who constantly monitors video footage of the match and is empowered to advise the referee if he/she may have made a clear error in awarding a goal.

Attribution of goals

The Laws make no mention of attributing goals to individual players. Nevertheless, goals are almost always attributed to individual players, that player being the one who provided the final action causing the goal to be scored. Generally, this is the last player to touch the ball, notwithstanding inconsequential deflections such as failed attempts at a save. Should a player cause a goal to be scored against their own team, the goal is recorded as an own goal.

The authority on attributing goals varies between competitions. The Premier League in England has a dedicated Dubious Goals Committee for resolving attribution disputes.[4]

For an individual player, scoring multiple goals in a game is considered a notable achievement. In association football, a hat-trick refers to the uncommon feat of scoring three goals in a single game. Awards exist for individual players who score the most goals in some competitions, such awards are often called the "Golden Boot".

Goal celebrations

Atlético Madrid players celebrate a goal with a group hug

Players will typically celebrate scoring a goal with team mates, occasionally putting on elaborate displays for the crowd. The Laws allow this, but mandate that celebration must not be "excessive".[1]

Quantity of goals

On average, only a few scores occur per game in association football.

Scoring rate in major competitions
Competition Average number of goals per game
2015–16 Premier League 2.70[5]
2015–16 Bundesliga 2.83[6]
2015–16 La Liga 2.74[7]
2014 FIFA World Cup 2.67[8]
2015 FIFA Women's World Cup 2.81[9]

An analysis of several years' results from several English leagues found that 1–0 was the most common result, occurring in approximately 20% of games.[10]


  1. ^ a b "LAWS OF THE GAME 2015/2016" (PDF). FIFA. Retrieved 12 December 2016. 
  2. ^ Bray, Ken. "When is a goal not a goal?". Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  3. ^ "IFAB makes three unanimous historic decisions". FIFA. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Ingle, Sean; Glendenning, Barry; Dart, James (23 August 2006). "Is there really a Dubious Goals Committee?". The Knowledge. The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-28. 
  5. ^ "Premier League » Statistics » Goals per season". Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "Bundesliga » Statistics » Goals per season". Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  7. ^ "Spain » Primera División » Statistics » Goals per season". Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  8. ^ "World Cup » Statistics » Goals per season". Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "Women World Cup » Statistics » Goals per season". Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  10. ^ "Most soccer matches are within one goal of 1-0". Decision Science News. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
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