The game of soccer -- more commonly referred to outside the United States as football -- has long been one of the most popular sports in the world. With origins that date back many centuries, soccer is played by young children, college students and professionals. Amateur clubs and weekend warriors add to the passion that swells up every four years for the most-watched sporting event in the world, the World Cup.
Although soccer's international governing body, the International Federation of Association Football, recognizes the birth of the modern game as 1863 in England, the deepest origins go back centuries. The Han Dynasty in the second century B.C. saw the emergence of a game similar to soccer called tsu' chu. Several centuries after that, the Japanese game Kemari began. Kemari was less competitive, with participants passing the ball from one another using their feet, trying to keep it from touching the ground. Much later, a violent town game emerged called mob football in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Premise and Rules
The game of soccer is built around the pursuit of scoring goals. Teams move the the ball up and down the field in an attempt to kick it within the goal, a framework that measures 8 feet in height and 24 feet in width at the professional level. The player guarding the goal, the goalkeeper, is the only player on a team typically allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Except during a throw-in, the other players must use their feet, knees, head and chest to control and advance the ball. A regulation game is played in two 45-minute halves.
Players and Boundaries
Eleven players, including the goalkeeper, are allowed on the field at one time for each team. These players must keep the ball in play on a rectangular field that measures between 100 and 130 yards in length and 50 and 100 yards in width. The builders of an individual stadium or field determine the dimensions for their facility based on how close they want the fans to the field, the style of game -- a smaller field provides greater advantage to the technical, rather than fast, players -- and the attendance capacity they hope to manage.
If the ball crosses the goal line -- the line creating the width of the field -- and the defense touches it last, its opponents are allowed a corner kick. On a corner kick, the ball is placed within an arc laid out at one of the two corners on the side where it went out. A player from the offensive team kicks it from there, typically aiming it to an area in front of the goal in the hope that one of his players can deflect it into the goal for a score.
Fouls and penalties committed by one team can lead to penalty kicks for the opposing team. This occurs when a foul is committed inside the penalty area -- anywhere 18 yards and in from the goal line -- and the player suffering the foul receives a penalty kick. For such a kick, the ball is placed 12 yards from the goal line and the fouled player kicks toward the goal, facing the goalkeeper only -- a great chance to score.
Free kicks occur when a foul is committed -- usually a player tripping or pushing an opponent inside the penalty area. This type of kick does not feature the one-on-one matchup against the goalkeeper. Instead, the opposing team may line its players up no closer than 10 yards from the ball. If the referee determines that the free kick should be a direct free kick, the player taking the free kick may kick the ball in the goal without having it touch another player first. An indirect free kick must touch another player before going in the goal. The type of free kick is determined by the nature of the foul.