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When Is Advantage Realized?

by Brian Goodlander

Law 5 defines Advantage as when “The referee allows play to continue when the team against which an offense has been committed will benefit from such an advantage.”  This simple phrase opens the door to many other questions and potential interpretations to this situation. When is Advantage realized?  Conversely, when is it not realized?  When should Advantage be used and when is the foul trifling?  Does Advantage apply in all situations?  What about when the foul warrants a caution or send-off?  The ability to apply Advantage consistently and effectively is considered an advanced refereeing skill.

What is Advantage? – I have spent many captains’ meeting before a match, listening to my fellow referee inform the team captains that “I allow Advantage at every opportunity”.  Later, I discover that this same referee may not have a full understanding of what Advantage is and how it should be applied.  All of us know that during a match, numerous fouls occur that we either choose not to call because they are trifling or because the player maintains control of the ball.  Trifling fouls are small, inconsequential fouls that occur that have little effect on game control, the severity is so minimal that the offended player would prefer to play, or that the referee is not really sure that it was, in fact, really a foul.  FIFA and USSF direct referees that “… it is the duty of the referee to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law.  Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of players and spoils the pleasure of the spectators.”

When a deliberate foul occurs against a player that results in them or a teammate losing control of the ball or an opportunity to threaten the opposing teams goal, the referee is obligated to stop play and award the appropriate free kick.  Advantage is applied when the deliberate foul does not result in the offended player or a teammate losing control or opportunity.  The classic example is when an attacker player (A8) is in his attacking third of the field and an opposing player (B7) deliberates trips A8.  However, A8 maintains his balance and collects the ball.  He then either effectively distributes the ball to a teammate or further presses his attack on the opponent’s goal.  Clearly, if the referee stops play for this infraction he has taken the tactical advantage away from the attacking team and has allowed the defending team the opportunity to set their defense for the resulting free kick.  Young and inexperienced referees are often confused when they call this deliberate foul and hear complaints from the offended player and his teammates.

Mechanics – Just like any other refereeing situation, there is a proper mechanic for Advantage. When a deliberate foul occurs, the referee should delay his call for just a fraction of a moment to see what occurs following the foul.  Assuming the player recovers or the ball goes to a teammate, the referee should signal the Advantage situation by swing his arms in an upward sweeping motion and yell out “Play On!” making it apparent to all players and surround participants that he has seen the infraction and has invoked the Advantage clause in the Laws of the Game.

Again, young and inexperienced referees over use the word “Play” in situations not involving Advantage.  They can be frequently heard using “Play” to restart play after a dead-ball situation.  This practice is best changed, keeping “Play” reserved for Advantage situations only and limiting the confusion to players, coaches, and fans.  Other referees will mimic an unofficial mechanic employed by international referees in years past, where the referee will point to the foul then follow track the offended player with the pointed finger.  This practice has been determined to not be a good procedure.  Some players find this to be an offensive or taunting gesture.

Field Position – Yet another variable when invoking Advantage is the position of the foul on the field of play.  You may have been told that Advantage does not apply in the defensive third of the field.  This is not necessarily true and cannot be said as an absolute.  The key aspect to understand and use when invoking Advantage is whether or not the offended player has an opportunity to threaten the opponent’s goal.  For example, a defender has collected an errant pass deep in his defensive third.  Despite being fouled by an opponent, he maintains control of the ball and has an offensive teammate open 50-60 yards up-field with a clear path to the goal.  If this is an upper-level match with full-grown skilled players, this could easily be considered an Advantage situation.  In a youth match, this same situation would probably be better served by calling the foul and the subsequent free kick.  Obviously, the closer a player is to their opponent’s goal, there are more possibilities for an Advantage situation.

Referees are counseled to not invoke Advantage in the attacking penalty area unless they are absolutely convinced that the goal will be scored from the resulting attack.  Instead, the referee is counseled to hold their whistle for the instant to see how things progress and internally invoke Advantage while externally providing no indication.  Imagine following the proper mechanic and invoking Advantage to an attacker in the penalty area who then miss-kicks the shot wide of the goal.  The attacker’s coach screams that he wants the foul.  You inform him that you called Advantage.  He replies “What Advantage?  What is a bigger advantage than taking a penalty kick?”

Cardable Offense – Another situation that confuses referees are when there is a clear Advantage situation but the foul inflicted on the offended player is either reckless or violent. Should the referee stop play to deliver the caution or send-off that is deserved?  The best answer to this question is it depends on the situation.  If the foul is so reckless or violent that it threatens the referee’s ability to control the match (e.g., a thrown punch or violent kick to the head), the referee must think about the safety of the players involved and the equity of the match.  These extreme situations will normally counterbalance the attraction of the Advantage.  If the foul is reckless but does not jeopardize safety or fairness, the referee can decide to deliver the card at the next stoppage of play.  In some cases, the referee may find it helpful to verbalize their intent to minimize the emotion retaliation of the fouled player or his teammates.  “Number 10, your in the book.  I will be back to see you!”  This practice must be done with some caution.  Armed with the knowledge that he is already in trouble, the offending player make take this information to take advantage of his upcoming departure to invoke his revenge on his “enemies”.

Advantage Realized? – Perhaps the biggest point of confusion for referees is defining when Advantage has been realized and when it has been lost.  Law 5 states “The referee penalizes the original offense if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time.”  This infers that there is some sort of time limit on the going back to the original foul and that the referee can actually return to the original foul after invoking Advantage. Earlier we discussed an example where A8 was fouled by B8 but maintains his balance to gather the ball.  Let’s look at a couple of variations on that incident:

  1. If A8 appears to be maintaining his balance but ultimately tumbles to the ground and his team loses possession.  Despite the fact that the referee has signaled for the Advantage and has yelled “Play On!”, he can now return to the point of the original foul and award the free kick to the offended team.  Understandably, many players may be confused by this change in decision so the referee may chose to inform them that Advantage was not realized.
  2. If that same player does maintain his balance but then takes an errant shot on goal, the referee needs to consider whether the original foul had an effect on the attacker’s ability to use his skills to make a shot on goal or was that Advantage taken away by the foul.
  3. This time the same player stumbles but maintains his balance and gathers himself before stumbling again, this time falling to the ground.  The referee needs to look at the action in a series of snapshots.  (1) The player is fouled, (2) he gathers his composure, and (3) he stumbles and falls to the ground.  This dissection of the action makes is apparent that the final stumble was independent of the original foul and therefore the player was given the opportunity to use the Advantage but failed in his execution of that opportunity.  The time from the foul to the final fall was too long to be associated with the initial foul.  A rule of thumb is that the Advantage call should not be taken back to the original foul after about 2-3 seconds of action.
  4. The same player is fouled by B7, stumbles and maintains his balance and control of the ball.  He is then fouled again by B9, knocking him hard to the ground.  In this case, the opportunity for the Advantage was realized but the second foul stopped the opportunity. The best practice is to punish the second foul instead of the returning to the original foul.

Advantage is a difficult skill to master but one that when used correctly is a great attribute of The Beautiful Game.  Every referee needs to be prepared to invoke Advantage when it applies and to learn how to interpret the intricacies of this important call.

Brian Goodlander is a referee for Soccer Association for Youth (SAY), USSF, college and high school in Cincinnati.  He is also a USSF assessor.



Cincinnati SportsMedicine

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