How does a Soccer Game End?

How does a soccer game end?

When you first start to watch or play soccer, there can be a lot of questions about how the game works.

One of the important questions to know the answer to is what happens at the end of the game. You need to know when it’s finished.

How does a soccer game end? A soccer game ends when the referee blows his/her whistle to signal that the time allotted to play the game has run out. At this point, all players must stop competing, and any following actions don’t count towards the result of the game. 

This seems pretty straightforward at first glance, but there can be a lot of questions around this.

Especially as there are a variety of factors that affect the timing of when the referee can blow the whistle and decide the game is over.

The Referee Decides When the Game Ends

In a game of soccer, the referee is the official in charge of deciding what happens during the game. This, importantly, includes deciding when it ends.

A soccer game ends when the players have completed 90 minutes of play. The time allocated to play soccer is two 45-minute periods, or halves, with a 15-minute interval between the two. This gives a total of 90 minutes to play the game.

The referee, with the aid of the three other game officials, is responsible for keeping track of the time and ending the game when the time is up.

Whatever is happening at this point, all the players know that nothing else they do will count towards the result of the game, even if they get the ball in the goal a second after the referee blows the whistle.

As a player, this can be frustrating at times, especially when you feel you just need a few more minutes to make a difference to the score!

But this is a necessary rule that is needed to give structure to the game. Everyone knows how long they have to play to get the result they want.

But it’s also helpful to realize that ending the game is not as simple as stopping the play once 90 minutes is up.

Find out why players trade jerseys at the end of a game in my article – Why Soccer Players Exchange Jerseys.

Various Factors Affect How Long the Game Lasts

As we have already talked about, each soccer game lasts for 90 minutes.

If you just look at this statement, you may think that the clock is started at the beginning of the game, and then after 90 minutes(or 45 minutes for each half), the whistle blows, and everybody stops.

But it’s not quite this straightforward.

Soccer games last a total of 90 minutes, plus any additional stoppage time that the referee adds to the end of each half. If the score is tied at the end of the game, then the referee may add on extra time, meaning the game may last another 30 minutes.

There are multiple things that happen throughout a game of soccer that stop the play and take away from the time given.

Some of these things are –

  • substitutions
  • assessment of injury to players
  • removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment
  • wasting time
  • any other cause

If a game was simply stopped when the timer reached 90 minutes, there would be a high chance that 90 minutes of soccer hadn’t actually been played because of all the stoppages.

It would also lead to a situation where once one team is in the lead, they could use every break in play to slow down the game, waste time, to stop the other team from having as many opportunities to score a goal and reclaim the lead themselves. (Although, the reality is that this does still happen sometimes.)

Because of this problem, the timer is actually stopped every time there is a break in play and restarted once the game has started again.

If this is done accurately, then it should allow 90 minutes of playing time to have taken place.

Sometimes You Will See More Than 90 Minutes on the Timer

hand with stop watch in it

Where this can be confusing for anyone watching soccer is that on TV, the clock you see in the corner of the screen doesn’t usually stop running. You will often see it up to 93, 95, or sometimes 97 minutes at the end of a game.

This is done to compensate for the time the game was stopped.

Throughout the game, the 4th official, who is off the field of play will keep a record of the length of each stoppage.

At the end of each half, the official will add up the total time and then signal to the referee and crowd how much longer, rounded to the nearest minute, the game needs to keep going to allow all the time allotted to be played.

Because of this, it may seem and you may hear a lot of talk of time being added onto the end of the game. While it may seem that way, the reality is that only 90 minutes of soccer is being played.

This extra time that is added at the end of a game is known as stoppage time.

To find out more about whether soccer has overtime and how it works, have a look at this article which will explain everything you need to know.

The Factors a Referee Should Consider When Deciding if the Game Should End

When the full 90 minutes of play have been completed and the time has come for the referee to blow the whistle and end the game, there are still a few more things they need to take into account.

One of those things is deciding if a significant event is currently happening.

This could be that a goal-scoring opportunity is about to take place, or a set-piece is about to be taken, for example. In these situations, the referee will often let these play out before ending the game.

This decision is made at the discretion of the referee.

And there may be times when the referee makes a controversial decision in this situation. It is important to remember in these moments that both teams have already had a full 90 minutes to play to achieve what they hoped to achieve in the game.

From watching many games and occasionally refereeing myself, I can assure you that this isn’t always an easy decision to make.

The best time to end the game is when the ball is in a neutral area of the field, or the ball has just gone out of play, or it looks like no significant event is about to take place.

Sometimes When the Time Is Up, More Time Is Added On

In certain competitions, you will find that once the 90 minutes is up and the referee has blown the whistle, extra periods of time are added on rather than the game ending where it is.

This happens in games where there is a need to establish a winner.

If the 90 minutes is up and the score between the two teams is level, then two more periods of play will be added on.

These will be two periods of 15 minutes with a quick 1-minute break between the two halves.

You will see this most often in soccer tournaments rather than in a league game.

It is not a problem in a league game if the game ends as a draw. The teams can move on to their next game and this result just adds or detracts, from their league position.

In a tournament, however, you need to know which team is moving on to the next round. So a winning team needs to be decided upon.

If at the end of these extra periods (usually referred to as “extra time, or overtime”) the score is still level, then a penalty shoot-out will take place. This is where each team gets a free shot at the goal from 12 yards out, with only the opposition goalkeeper there to stop the ball.

Each team will have 5 shots each and alternating between the players on each team until a winner of the game is established.

At this point, the referee can blow the whistle and officially end the game.

*Check out our next post – What does FT mean in Soccer?*

Alternatively, find out if a soccer team has ever forfeited a game.

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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