Referee's Use of "Advantage"

 An official is able to “play advantage” any time an infraction is committed during a game.  Here’s an example of how it works:

One team is attacking.  The defending team commits an infraction (foul) of some kind, but the attacking team maintains possession of the ball and continues their attack.  The referee may allow the attack to continue without stopping play to award a free kick to the team in possession of the ball.  Normally, the referee will raise his arms and say, “Play on.”

If, after allowing play to continue for a few seconds, the referee feels that no advantage has been gained by the attacking team, he may stop play and bring back play to the spot of the original infraction and award the free kick as appropriate (along with any other appropriate disciplinary measures). 

“Advantage” can be played for fouls that would result in a direct kick, indirect kick, a caution (yellow card) or a sending-off (red card).  In the event of an offense that merits a caution or ejection, the referee will come back to the offending player at the next stoppage of play to deal with the infraction.

Allowing the referee to play advantage is intended to keep the game flowing and to promote it being played in an attractive, attacking manner.  It helps to eliminate cynical, intentional fouling that would stifle the creativity of attacking players.

Here is what the Laws of the Game say about use of Advantage:


The referee may play advantage whenever an infringement or offence occurs.

The referee should consider the following circumstances in deciding whether to apply the advantage or stop play:

  • The severity of the offence:  if the infringement warrants and expulsion, the referee must stop play and send off the player unless there is a subsequent opportunity to score a goal
  • The position where the offence was committed: the closer to the opponent’s goal, the more effective it can be
  • The chances of an immediate promising attack
  • The atmosphere of the match
  • The decision to penalize the original offence must be taken within a few seconds.

If the offence warrants a caution, it must be issued at the next stoppage.  However, unless there is a clear advantage, it is recommended that the referee stops play and cautions the player immediately.  If the caution is NOT issued at the next stoppage, it cannot be shown later.

                -“FIFA Laws of the Game, Law 5, The Referee”

Keep the following things in mind when coaching or watching games:

  • The referee may have seen the foul you feel should have been called and may be allowing play to develop if no action is taken.
  • Less experienced officials may apply the advantage without signaling because they are concentrating on what is happening on the field or are working to get into better position.
  • If a foul is called a few seconds after it has happened, the referee is applying the advantage rule and feels a clear advantage has not developed.  The official is probably not being influenced by the other team’s coaches or supporters.
  • There are many situations where a series of fouls occur, and the referee sees the first one (which may not be obvious) and brings the ball back after a second, more obvious, foul has happened and no advantage has developed.  The referee is taking the correct action by bringing the ball back to the spot of the first foul.

Advantage is often difficult to apply and is applied at the discretion of the referee.  As such, it is very subjective. 



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