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FIFA World Cup 2022: What Is An Offside And How It Changes The Course Of The Game

On many occasions, players scored and celebrated goals during the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, before the lines official disallowed it, calling it offside.

By - Sourit Sanyal | 29 Nov 2022 12:57 PM GMT

On Monday, when Brazil played against Switzerland at Stadium 974, Vinicius Jr. broke the deadlock for Brazil, setting up a frenzied moment for all the Brazil players in and outside the pitch, who rushed towards Vini Jr. to celebrate Brazil's goal. But minutes later, the referee raised his hand up and disallowed Vini Jr.'s goal, calling it offside. 

The rule of offside has played a significant role in association football, ranging from domestic leagues to international club tournaments and even the FIFA World Cup, football's apex tournament. Many major goals and potential goal chances, disallowed because of the offside rule, could have changed the course of footballing history as well.

When the lines-official raises the flag to call a player being 'offside', viewers and fans often wonder what the rule is about and what are the factors at play. Here's all you need to know about the offside rule. 

The Offside Rule

The offside is a positional law in football that applies to a player when they cross the opponent's defensive line. According to the Laws of the Game, the offside rule has been codified under Law 11.

It states that a player is in an offside position when they are on the other side of the halfway line (that is the opponent's half) and their body parts (except for the hands and arms) are closer to the opponent's goal line than the ball and the second-last opponent (usually a defender). The last opponent is usually but not mandatorily, the goalkeeper.

Red line marks offside; Blue line marks onside. Picture credits: FIFA

In the image above, the team in white is the defending side while the team in yellow is the attacking/opponent side. The player in yellow (on top, marked by the red line) is offside because their potential goal-scoring body part (again marked in red) is ahead of the second-last opponent (marked by the blue line) before they receive the ball. The line's official would thus raise the flag from the sideline and call the player's position offside.  

If the opponent player's eligible body part was in or behind the blue line, the player could have avoided the offside line and thus take the ball ahead to move ahead and try to score a potential goal. If the goal gets scored, the goal would stand in this case, as the player would be in an 'onside' position.  

The Margin Of Error: Being Offside And Onside 

By being ahead of the second-last opponent before receiving the ball, the opponent attacker (or potential goal scorer) gets an advantage that can help them to progress with the ball and create a threatening goal-scoring chance, thus the lines-official would call the player's position offside.  

But just being in the position does not mean that the player is committing an offside. To simplify this, a player can be in their designated positions and freely roam around the field, including being ahead of the second-last opponent. But the lines-official would only call it offside if the player is ahead of the second-last opponent and in between the last opponent standing before they receive the ball or if they touch the ball and therefore get involved in active play.  

However, if the ball is already ahead of the second-last opponent, the attacking player would not be called offside by the lines person, despite them being closer to the opponent's goal line and ahead of the second-last opponent. As a result, attackers often need to time their run to chase a potential goal-scoring assist/pass and overtake the second-last opponent's position while the ball goes ahead of them.

This is a major move that we get to see in the 'counter-attack' tactical approach of players where they time their runs and overtake their second-last opponent while keeping the ball ahead of them, to be in an onside position. By overtaking an opponent with the ball on their feet, using their pace, players get to maintain their onside position. 

What Happens When A Player Commits Offside Offence

The offside offence is judged by the match officials instantly and the advent of VAR (Virtual Assistant Referees) with advanced technology has helped referees monitor the game even more closely to abide by the Laws of the Game, which includes offside. 

The referee would call a player offside the moment the ball is last touched by a recent teammate and the receiver is already ahead of the ball and the second-last opponent. Often at times, the margin of error is very slim with players being offside for not timing their run by seconds. 

When a lines official raises the flag to call the position as offside, the referee stops play and awards an indirect free kick to the defending opponent from the spot where the offside offence took place. The offside is different from a foul or misconduct, which comes under Law 12 of the Laws of the Game, thus the referee does not book a player for such an offence. 

Impact Of Offside Rule On The Game

To bring Brazil's 1-0 victory against Switzerland during their FIFA World Cup 2022 group stage match, the Seleção could have won the match by a margin of 2-0 if the VAR officials did not nullify Vinicius Jr.'s goal as offside. 

The rule helps match officials in maintaining fair play. Moreover, the presence of the offside rule helps players to maintain and practice their position and not violate the rules by getting closer to the opponent's goal-line and go ahead of the second-last defending opponent before they even get to receive the ball. 

In Argentina's case, the offside rule has provided quite some hard times, including their shocking defeat against Saudi Arabia on November 22 at the Lusail Stadium. Saudi Arabia scripted history with their infamous 2-1 victory against the Albiceleste but the story would have been completely different if not for the offside rule. Lionel Messi and company dominated the game since the beginning of the match, maintaining 69% possession and making 15 shots with six on target, compared to Saudi's three with two shots on target that went past Argentina's goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. 

Saudi Arabia's coach Hervé Renard also presented a tactical approach called the offside trap that the Saudis did to trap and stop Messi and company from scoring any more goals since their 1-0 lead from the 10th-minute penalty. In the very first half, Argentina committed three offsides. The Saudi defence, consisting of Saud Abdulhamid, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Hassan Tambakti and Ali Al-Bulayhi maintained their offside trap, which proved why Renard is a tactical genius. Argentina committed a total of 10 offsides before losing the game to the Saudis. 

Another moment of offside that haunts many Argentina supporters is the 2014 FIFA World Cup final where Gonzalo Higuain scored the goal past Manuel Neuer to give Argentina a 1-0 lead. But the goal was called offside and the match eventually went on to extra time with Mario Götze scoring the goal in the death minutes to help Germany win their fourth World Cup title in Rio de Janeiro. 

The list of examples goes on but it also reflects on the importance of the offside rule and moreover, its impact on the game that can influence, impact and change results, thus changing the course of footballing history (as we saw in the case of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final).