It’s arguably the best sight in the game. A beautifully worked move ends with the ball in the back of the net. Leading to a goal for the scoring side (a point, if you will). On the streets, you may get away with placing a shoe on either side of the goalkeeper to define the goal boundaries. You might even make goal calls on what players see (one can already see what can go wrong).
For professional competitions, you need rules: clear, well-defined clauses that can be easily applied by the match officials (referees and linesmen) to award or disallow goals. Until very recently, that was it. Based on their interpretation of the law, as independent parties in a game, referees decided to award or not award goals.
Most of that is still true. But we now have technology in the game. Goal-line technology and Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are now prevalent in most major competitions. These technologies intend to help officials make decisions. Their implementation is still being optimized. But they are here to stay, that’s for sure.
In either case, let’s dive into the world of goals: the rules, the meaning of a goal, and how you might score one, and all that fun stuff.
When is it a goal?
The simple but all-important question. What needs to happen for a goal to be scored? In simple terms, the “whole of the ball must cross the whole of the line.”
See that straight white line in between the goalposts? The entire soccer ball must go past that line (with no part of the ball touching the line itself) for a goal to be called. You might say, who cares about the line, most of the time, I smash the ball into the net anyway. And you’d be right. Most goals end with the ball way behind the line.
But that’s the thing with numerosity. If the sport is played for long enough, you’ll have situations where the ball may seem to have crossed the line but was cleared before it hit the net. It then becomes necessary to define the boundaries. The whole ball must cross the line.
Then there’s the issue of who’s responsible for determining if the ball crossed the line or not. Previously, it was entirely based on the referee’s visual inspection. Sounds crazy now, right? But that was the reality for decades. It gave us situations like Frank Lampard’s unawarded equalizer against Germany in the 2010 World Cup.
Thankfully, goal-line technology at the top competitions is now commonplace. And you can determine with almost 100% accuracy whether a ball crossed the line or not based on cameras and sensors on the goalposts.
So, how to score goals in soccer? A goal is awarded when a team gets the match ball past their opponent’s goal-line. Simple enough.
What does a goal mean?
The scoring system in football soccer is as simple as can be. Unlike basketball, where a basket can get you 2 or 3 points (or 1 on a free throw), or tennis, where you can get 15 or 10 points on a winning rally, a goal in soccer gets you one “point.”
All soccer matches start with the score being 0-0 for both teams. If your team scores the first goal, the score changes to 1-0 in your favor. If the other team equalizes, it changes to 1-1. Very simple.
What does a goal mean in the grand scheme of competitions? Well, that depends. For league competitions in Europe, where teams play each other twice throughout the season, goals determine the outcome of a game. Most leagues operate on the following points system: 0 for a defeat, 1 for a tie, 3 for a win. At the end of the season, the team with the most points wins the league.
For knockout competitions, it’s simpler. The team with the most goals in a match advances to the next stage of the competition. One interesting exception here is the “away goals rule” in the UEFA Champions League. The rule gives extra weight to a goal scored in your opponents’ stadium if the aggregate score is tied.
To elaborate, if two teams face each other in the semi-final of the champions league. They play each other twice, once each in their respective stadiums. If the overall score is tied, in the end, the team with the greater number of goals in their opponent’s stadium progresses! It seems slightly unfair but has definitely added to the drama and excitement of matches. It has also brought about interesting tactical approaches to the two-legged games, but that’s for another day.
Scoring goals also has substantial meaning at the individual level too. It’s one of the most used statistics to compare the elite attackers in the game. And rightly so. Scoring goals in soccer involves having the right mix of technique, anticipation, positioning, and talent. Many “tap-in” goals are viewed as simple freebies. But if you study strikers who consistently score “freebie” goals, you realize how good they are at being in the right place, at the right time.
To sum up, goals influence the outcome of matches, which allows teams to get more points in leagues or advance to further stages in knockouts. Moreover, they also are a good metric at the player level. Players celebrate goals for both these reasons.
How do you score a goal?
By putting the ball across the goal-line, duh (did you read the intro?). Just kidding. Soccer is a team sport. And while the player attacking the goal may get all the plaudits, the entire team plays a role in offensive situations to create the opportunity for a goal.
So what are the methods of scoring in soccer? There are multiple ways to create goal-scoring opportunities. Broadly, they can be categorized into three:
A penalty kick is awarded to a team if any player from the opposing team commits a foul in their penalty box. The penalty box is defined by those lines around the goalposts and excludes the semicircle (or “D”).
This allows a member of the fouled team to place the ball on the penalty spot (the white dot you see in the penalty box) and take a shot at the net. The only obstacle they have to overcome is the goalkeeper.
In the normal course of the match, these are called “spot-kicks.” In some situations, penalty shootouts are used to determine a winner in knock-outs when the teams are tied after 90 mins (and extra time).
Free kicks and corner kicks are also another way to create goal-scoring opportunities. Both are “set” plays. That is, the move starts from a static (or set) position. The team taking the free kick or the corner kick places the ball in a position and can kick it anywhere they like.
Free kicks, if in the right position, can be opportunities for direct shots on goal. Some of the great free-kick takers in the world (Juninho, David Beckham) were known for their ability to bend and swerve the balls from tough situations to score.
However, some free-kicks can also be used to create a goal-scoring opportunity, such as a nice cross into the box for a striker to head into the goal. This is the same with corner kicks.
This is the majority of the goals you’ll see. When a team passes the ball around, trying to penetrate the opposition’s defense. Ultimately, the aim is to create a scoring opportunity for one of the players. This can be a tap-in, a 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper, an aerial cross into the box for the striker to head in; the possibilities are endless.
Build-up play is the ethos of soccer. The goal (pun intended) of build-up play is to exploit your opponent’s positioning by moving the ball around. A goal from a well-executed build-up is one of the most satisfying things to watch.
Special Mention: Own Goals
These are rare and are never intentional. On occasion, a player may inadvertently put the ball into his own net. It may be through a deflection or an unintended pass/shot. This results in the opposing team being awarded a goal. And the involved player getting the maligned “own-goal” to his name.
The Final Whistle
Scoring goals is the goal (sorry, had to do it one more time) in soccer. Goals influence the outcomes of the game. They build a team’s confidence. They advance teams into later stages of competitions. Even teams with defensive set-ups have offensive plans for goal scoring.
The rules governing goals are fairly simple. The ball must cross the line. Foul play should not be involved leading to the goal. And a player must score from an onside position. The trickiest rules to implement are those that require judgments from referees. And this is the main challenge with VAR right now.
That said, the satisfaction of scoring (or watching) a great goal is immense. No wonder players celebrate each goal they score. Though make sure to keep that shirt on, or you risk a yellow card!