Overtime in Soccer – The Rules and How It Works

overtime in soccer header image

Many different sports add on a period of overtime at the end of a game to determine an outcome when there is no clear winner. In this article, we’ll be looking at whether soccer also uses overtime, when it’s needed, and how it works.

So, let’s start with the answer to the question. Does soccer have overtime?

Soccer does have overtime. Overtime, also known as extra time, takes place when the result of a game is a tie at the end of the regulation time. At this point, both teams will play for two extra 15-minute periods with a one-minute break allowed between the two periods.

Although this gives you an overview and idea of what overtime is, there’s more to know when it comes to understanding how overtime works.

So, let’s look into the details of what it actually looks like, and I’ll show you the rules that govern this process.

For a complete overview of how soccer works, check out my article – The Basics of Soccer: A Easy-To-Understand Guide.

When Overtime is Used in Soccer

Overtime has been in soccer’s rulebooks since as long ago as 1897. However, it still took a long time for it to really catch on in the way it’s used now.

For a while, at the beginning of the last century, they played a version of overtime where the next goal would win the game. But there were occasions when neither team could score, and the overtime alone went on for over 3 hours!

If you want to know more about the history of soccer, then check out my article: How Soccer was Invented.

Although we know that soccer does use overtime, it’s helpful to know how and when it is used.

One of the exciting things about watching soccer is seeing your team declared the winner at the end of the game. But, as with many sports, there is always the chance that the game comes to an end and the scores are still tied.

If a game ends in a tie, there are two different things that could happen.

  1. The game is over. Neither team is declared the winner, and the players and fans have to settle for a tie.
  2. The teams stay on the field and carry on playing until a winner is determined. This is playing overtime.

After any stoppage time at the end of regulation time in scenario 1, the referee blows the whistle to signal the game is over, and everyone packs up and leaves.

In scenario 2, however, once the regulation time is up and any additional stoppage time is played, the referee will blow their whistle, but this time the game is not yet over.

Before this game had started, it would have been decided that there must be a clear winner at the end of the game.

So if the game were tied at this point, both teams would then prepare to continue playing after a short break of a few minutes. The players would already be aware that overtime would need to be played in this situation.

Overtime, or extra time, in soccer, lasts for a total of 30 minutes. This extra 30 minutes of playing time is split into two 15-minute periods with a one-minute break between the two halves.

Deciding whether the game will follow the format of option 1 or option 2 above will depend on the structure of the competition in which the specific game is being played.

Most Soccer Competitions Use Overtime at Some Point

Maybe at this point, you have understood what overtime is and how it’s used, but you still have questions about which competitions it’s used in.

As you are probably aware, there is a wide variety of different soccer competitions out there. And there are some that have subtly different rules to other competitions.

The answer is that all major soccer competitions use overtime if needed when a winner needs to be decided at the end of that specific game.

To explain a bit further, most soccer games are played in a league format or knock-out format.

A league format is a round-robin competition. Each team will play every other team once or sometimes twice, and the team with the best record in those games will be the top team.

In a knock-out format, the winning team of one game will progress to the next round of the tournament, while the losing team will be “knocked out” and no longer allowed to compete in the tournament.

This means that in a league game, a winner doesn’t need to be determined. If the game ends as a tie, that is acceptable, and there is no need to play overtime.

In a knock-out game, however, a winner needs to be determined.

This means that if the game is a tie at the end of regulation time, then it is necessary for overtime to be played as there must be a clear winner.

Because of this, you will find overtime used in both men’s and women’s soccer. You will see it used in the knock-out stages of the FIFA World Cup, you will see it used in the playoff stages of the MLS, and you will see it used in many other soccer competitions.

Soccer Overtime Rules

Thankfully, when it comes to understanding the rules of overtime in soccer, they are not much different from the rules governing the rest of the game.

list of 9 soccer overtime rules infographic

It doesn’t matter if a team is playing in the Champions League, the MLS, or the FIFA World Cup; soccer overtime rules are the same.

I’ve laid them out for you here.

Soccer overtime rules:

  1. Overtime in soccer lasts for a total of 30 minutes
  2. Overtime is split into two equal-length periods.
  3. Each period of play should last for 15 minutes.
  4. A one-minute break will be permitted between the two halves.
  5. Stoppage time can be added to the end of each period of play.
  6. The opponents of the team that takes the kickoff at the beginning of overtime shall take the kickoff for the second period of overtime
  7. The team that has the highest scoreline at the end of overtime will be the winner of the game
  8. If the game is tied at the end of overtime, both teams will take part in a penalty shootout
  9. Both teams can make substitutions during overtime

As you can see, extra time in soccer gives both teams an additional 30 minutes to score a goal and win the game for their team.

If neither team scores or both teams score an equal number of goals during extra time, then the game moves onto a penalty shootout.

You can find out more about that in my article – Penalty Shootout in Soccer: How it Works.

The Use of “Golden Goal” in Overtime

golden goal and ball

Throughout the history of soccer, the rules have adapted and changed over time. This is no different when it comes to the rules of overtime.

For a while, the “golden goal” rule was used during overtime to decide on a winner and bring an end to the game.

The golden goal rule was fairly straightforward. Once the period of overtime was underway, the next team to score a goal would win the game. Once a goal was scored, the game was immediately over. It was, in essence – “the next goal wins the game.”

This was most famously used in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

The idea was to encourage more attacking play, but the reality was that it made teams more cautious as they tried to prevent the opposition from scoring against them.

The golden goal rule was widely abandoned in 2003, and now no major soccer tournament uses this rule.

”Overtime” Is Not the Only Term Used

Something you may have noticed, especially if you watch any amount of soccer from countries outside of North America, is that this period of time is not always referred to as “overtime.” People in other countries around the world usually call it “extra time.”

The fact that it is referred to as overtime in North America is mainly due to the fact that most other North American sports have a period of overtime if needed, and these sports universally call it “overtime” rather than anything else.

Instead of confusing the issue by calling this period in soccer something different, it is far more common to call it overtime. This keeps the terminology in line with the rest of the sports played in North America.

The Difference Between Stoppage Time and Overtime

One question that I’ve seen people often ask is – what is the difference between stoppage time and overtime?

When you first look at the game, it can seem confusing. Aren’t they both time added on at the end of a game?

The simple answer to that question is yes; they are both times added on at the end of a game. However, the better answer to that question requires a little more explanation and definition of what both terms mean.

In a game of soccer –

  • Stoppage time is time added at the end of each half of the game to compensate for stoppages occurring throughout each half of the game. These stoppages can be due to substitutions made, injuries, or time-wasting by either team. Usually lasting between 1 and 4 minutes, the length of time played is a decision made by the referee. Stoppage time is also sometimes known as “injury time.”
  • Overtime is two completely separate 15-minute periods of play that take place if the game has ended in a tie at the completion of regulation time.

From these two definitions, you can see the difference between the two and how they are similar but different.

This also means that it is possible, and often happens, that one game can have both stoppage time and overtime before the game is over.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the rules of soccer, check out this recent article I wrote – A Simple and Easy to Understand Guide to the Rules of Soccer

Also, listening to all the different phrases and terms people use when talking about soccer can be confusing. If you’re interested in understanding more about what all the terms used actually mean, have a look at this article I wrote explaining soccer terminology – A Glossary of the Terms Used in Soccer

*And check out the next article – The 10 Best Soccer Drills for Beginners – A Step-by-Step Guide*

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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