There were few major alterations to football’s laws through the 20th century. Indeed, until the changes of the 1990s, the most significant amendment to the rules came in 1925, when the offside rule was rewritten. Previously, an attacking player (i.e., one in the opponent’s half of the playing field) was offside if, when the ball was “played” to him, fewer than three opposing players were between him and the goal. The rule change, which reduced the required number of intervening players to two, was effective in promoting more goals. In response, new defensive tactics and team formations emerged. Player substitutions were introduced in 1965; teams have been allowed to field three substitutes since 1995.
More recent rule changes have helped increase the tempo, attacking incidents, and amount of effective play in games. The pass-back rule now prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball after it is kicked to them by a teammate. “Professional fouls,” which are deliberately committed to prevent opponents from scoring, are punished by red cards, as is tackling (taking the ball away from a player by kicking or stopping it with one’s feet) from behind. Players are cautioned for “diving” (feigning being fouled) to win free kicks or penalties. Time wasting has been addressed by forcing goalkeepers to clear the ball from hand within six seconds and by having injured players removed by stretcher from the pitch. Finally, the offside rule was adjusted to allow attackers who are level with the penultimate defender to be onside.
Interpretation of football’s rules is influenced heavily by cultural and tournament contexts. Lifting one’s feet over waist level to play the ball is less likely to be penalized as dangerous play in Britain than in southern Europe. The British game can be similarly lenient in punishing the tackle from behind, in contrast to the trend in recent World Cup matches. FIFA insists that “the referee’s decision is final,” and it is reluctant to break the flow of games to allow for video assessment on marginal decisions. However, the most significant future amendments or reinterpretations of football’s rules may deploy more efficient technology to assist match officials. Post-match video evidence is used now by football’s disciplinary committees, particularly to adjudicate violent play or to evaluate performances by match officials.
Strategy and tactics
Use of the feet and (to a lesser extent) the legs to control and pass the ball is football’s most basic skill. Heading the ball is particularly prominent when receiving long aerial passes. Since the game’s origins, players have displayed their individual skills by going on “solo runs” or dribbling the ball past outwitted opponents. But football is essentially a team game based on passing between team members. The basic playing styles and skills of individual players reflect their respective playing positions. Goalkeepers require agility and height to reach and block the ball when opponents shoot at goal. Central defenders have to challenge the direct attacking play of opponents; called upon to win tackles and to head the ball away from danger such as when defending corner kicks, they are usually big and strong. Fullbacks are typically smaller but quicker, qualities required to match speedy wing-forwards. Midfield players (also called halfs or halfbacks) operate across the middle of the field and may have a range of qualities: powerful “ball-winners” need to be “good in the tackle” in terms of winning or protecting the ball and energetic runners; creative “playmakers” develop scoring chances through their talent at holding the ball and through accurate passing. Wingers tend to have good speed, some dribbling skills, and the ability to make crossing passes that travel across the front of goal and provide scoring opportunities for forwards. Forwards can be powerful in the air or small and penetrative with quick footwork; essentially, they should be adept at scoring goals from any angle.