The state of soccer worldwide and its basic rules

Understanding how this 90 minute game unfolds

A wide angle shot of a soccer game full of fans
Soccer has been dominated by Europe for most of its history, but Canada is starting to gain traction. Photo: Vienna Reyes / Unsplash

By: Greg Makarov, Sports Writer


Soccer, otherwise called football in Europe and South America, has been around for centuries dating back to ancient Greece. Of course, the form was wildly different, but the idea of kicking around a ball has survived the creeping of time. In 1863, the game we know and love today was put into writing by the Football Association in London.

Nowadays, soccer is the biggest worldwide spectator sport with an estimated three billion fans around the world — almost half of the planet’s population! A vital factor contributing to its worldwide popularity is its low maintenance. Only a ball and some markers for the net are enough for most, allowing the game to be played absolutely everywhere and at all skill levels. 

Association Football

Due to soccer’s large demographic of players, it was too challenging to democratize the sport into one major league with the same rules. Instead, it was split into regional organizations and leagues. By profit, the biggest leagues are in Europe. They include the Premier League (England), The Bundesliga (Germany), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), and Ligue 1 (France). Other leagues such as Major League Soccer in North America are also rising in popularity, due in part to a growing fan base.

World and Continental Competition

There’s only one World Cup soccer tournament which occurs every four years and features players playing on their national team. Then there are continental competitions such as the Copa America (South American Cup), Europa (European Cup), and the Champions League, which takes the best teams from leagues around Europe to compete for the title of best team.

Basic Rules 

Even though the rules are not identical across leagues, the basic template is the same: 10 players and one goalkeeper take the field. To win a game, a team must outscore their opponent. A typical game consists of two halves that are 45 minutes long. Unlike hockey or basketball, the timer does not stop when the play stops — this prompts the referee to add additional time at their discretion during the 90 minute mark of the game. Five substitutions (exchanging players from the bench to field) are allowed per team — these may occur at any time. If the ball leaves the pitch (field) on any side during the game, then a throw in is awarded to the other team. If the ball is kicked out at either end (corner) of the pitch, then a goal kick or corner kick is given depending on which team touched it last. Similar to hockey, players must also prevent themselves from going offside by remaining behind the other team’s defense. 


For any physical infractions there is a yellow and red card system. Yellow cards are given as cautions for reckless or dangerous play, while red cards are for plays usually resulting in injury. Players who receive a red card are automatically ejected from the game. 


For lesser infractions, called fouls, a few mechanisms can occur. The most common is the direct or indirect free kick which is given at the same spot where the foul occurred. A direct kick can be shot at the goal, while an indirect kick must be passed before shooting. If a foul occurs inside the penalty box in front of the net, then a penalty kick is awarded. In this case, the player must shoot the ball from a designated spot 12 yards away from the goal line. Once the ball is touched by the player, the game continues, allowing for rebounds created by the goalie to be scored. 


While Europe and South America have been acknowledged for their highly skilled players, other countries are slowly catching up in international competition. For example, the Canadian national team made history this year by going undefeated (so far) in World Cup qualification rounds, to earn a spot in the tournament — the farthest the team has gotten since 1986


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