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When Do You Give A Red Card In Soccer? 8 Common Instances

When Do You Give A Red Card In Soccer? 8 Common Instances

Without rules, every sport will be chaotic and soccer is not an exception. Even with rules, tempers are almost always flaring such that it often seems like a brawl. That is why every soccer game needs a referee to keep it in check.

Well, soccer is enjoyed by players from all over the world who often don’t speak the same language. Before the advent of color cards, some referees found it difficult to communicate with players.

With the introduction of color-cards, referees can easily convey their thoughts to the players, even when they don’t speak the same language. In association football, referees have two caution cards—red and yellow.

In some other soccer variations like futsal, a third card is introduced—the blue card. Interestingly, while a player can get more than one yellow card in a game or in successive games, a red card is only shown once to any soccer player in a single game—and it comes with some consequences.

Once a player receives a red card, they have to leave the game and will no longer take part in it. They are not even allowed to stay in the stand, rather, will have to head straight to the dressing room.

But what will make a soccer player get a red card in soccer? Perhaps you are a referee looking for ways to better your skills, read on to find out!

When do you give a red card in soccer?

A referee can give a red card to a soccer player directly or it can be a consequence of getting two yellow cards in a match. The decision of the card to be given by a referee will depend on the severity of the foul committed by the player.

It is always easier to give a second yellow card which is followed automatically by a red card rather than giving a straight red card. Players that get a straight red card serve a longer match ban than those that receive two yellow cards followed by a red card.

Getting a red card also comes with suspension which can be as little as one game or stretch to three games depending on the severity of the player’s violent conduct.

However, red cards are not the only reason for suspending a player. Accumulating yellow cards during a season can lead to suspension depending on the league regulations.

It is important to mention that a red card can only be given to an outfield player, a substitute, a substituted player, or any member of the team’s technical crew. So, any player that is not listed as an outfield player or a substitute (who watches the match from the stands) cannot be given a red card.

The Laws of the Game clearly lists instances when the referee should give a red card to a soccer player. However, the referees are also allowed to use their initiative in some instances.

referee giving a red card in a soccer match

Although referee decisions are not always perfect and have often been a source of controversy, here are some of the instances when a referee is allowed to give a red card in soccer.

Dangerous play

A dangerous play is any action by a soccer player that makes use of excessive force which the referee believes can cause injury to the opponent. One of the instances, when a referee can give a red card, is when a player steps on another player on the ankle or calf.

Although there are players that deliberately step on their opponents, in the majority of cases, it happens by accident. However, whether it is deliberate or intentional, the penalty is always the same.

For example, at the AFCON 2021 tournament, Nigerian international, Alex Iwobi got a red card for stepping on another player’s ankle. However, most sports analysts argued that it was a soft red card.

Denying a goal-scoring opportunity

Defenders will do anything to stop a player from the opposing side from scoring a goal. However, there are times when their action earns them a red card.

For example, if an attacker is beyond the last defender and is heading towards the goal but the defender decides to chase the attacker and drags him or her down or slide-tackles the attacker from behind, the defender is most likely to get a red card.

a soccer player tacking ball from his opponent

There are times when defenders use their hands to stop the ball from entering the net. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Uruguay was looking to qualify for their first-ever semi-final since 1970.

However, no African country has ever reached that level before. They were paired against Ghana who was determined to make the last four for the first time.

After a deadlock, Ghana was close to scoring after hitting successive waves of attack but Luis Suarez had to use his hand to block a goal-bound shot. This eventually earned him a red card.

It is important to mention that only the goalkeeper is allowed to handle the ball in the 18-yard box. Most times when players use their hands—especially if they are on the goal line, they are most likely to get a red card for it.

Spitting or biting an opponent

Any player or team official caught biting or spitting on anyone is given a red card by the referee without hesitation. Interestingly, it is hard not to get caught doing any of these with cameras all over the stadium.

One soccer player that is notorious for biting in the history of soccer is Luis Suarez. While still at Ajax, Suarez bit PSV’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder. He got a red card and was eventually handed a 7-match ban.

Using abusive language

FIFA has zero-tolerance for abusive words—especially racial abuse. If an outfield player, a substitute, or a team official is caught using abusive or foul language on anyone, they can get a red card that will send them to the dressing room.

Players and an entire team have been known to stage a walkout when they are abused and the match official refuses to do something about it. In a game between Porto and Vitoria Guimaraes, Porto’s striker Moussa Marega walked out of the pitch in protest for being racially abused.

two soccer players arguing with abusive language

There is a growing campaign against racism in soccer and players support this campaign by taking a knee before kickoff. However, there are other reasons why soccer players take a knee in soccer and we covered all of them here.

Intruding into the video operation room

With the introduction of the virtual assisted referee (VAR), the Laws of the Game have been adjusted to accommodate that change. According to the new law, players, substitutes, or team officials are not allowed to enter the video operation room.

Any player, substitute, or team official caught in this act will surely get a red card. While this may seem harsh, it is important to protect the integrity of the game because there is a slim chance that someone may try to influence the decision of the VAR.

Delaying or obstructing restart of play

Players often hold on to the ball even when the referee has blown the whistle for an infringement on another player. Most times, players do this to allow their teammates to return and defend so that the attacking team doesn’t play a quick freekick and catch them unaware.

However, out of anger or in protest that the referee got the call wrong, some players hold onto the ball longer.

Another popular way players try to delay time is by kicking the ball around or kicking it out of play after the referee blows his or her whistle for an infringement. Some even pretend they did not hear the whistle and continue to play.

Goalkeepers are also guilty of delaying play when their team is winning by either holding onto the ball, faking an injury or delaying their goal kick.

goalkeeper holding soccer ball

Referees are allowed to give a red card to the player for intentionally delaying time. The chance of getting a red card is higher in this case if the player is already on a yellow card.

Off the ball violent conduct

While it is easy to understand that a soccer player was sent off for striking another player, what many fans may not know is that a player can get a red card for striking anyone in the stadium.

The only time the player may escape with caution is if the referee believes the force applied is negligible. For example, in 2013, during a game between Chelsea and Swansea, the ball went out for a goal kick but the ball boy, Charlie Morgan refused to release the ball to Hazard.

After a brief struggle for the ball, the boy fell on the ball. Frustrated Hazard kicked him to get the ball out of his grip. After reviewing the incident, the referee gave Hazard a red card.

Referees can give a red card to a soccer player for violent conduct they performed off the ball. This includes deliberately striking a player, match official, or ball boy.

At the FIFA Club World Cup, 2022 third-place match between Al Hilal and Al Ahly, Mohamed Kanno of Al Hilal decided to kick Al Ahly’s goal scorer Ibrahim off the ball which earned him a red card. The referee made the decision after a VAR review.

After VAR review

With the introduction of VAR, most referees’ decisions are reviewed. In most cases, whenever a player gets a yellow card after a tackle and the attention of the referee is called by the VAR, there is a high likelihood that the yellow card will be rescinded and replaced with a red card.

referee giving a red card after var review

We have seen this scenario play out more times in recent years. For example, in 2019 during a game between Cracovia and Legia, William Remy got a second yellow card which automatically means he was going out of the game.

However, after a VAR review, the second yellow card was rescinded and replaced with a straight red. It was a funny moment because for a moment he thought he had been called back into the game.

When do you give a red card in other soccer variants?

The rules are almost identical in all soccer variants. That means any of the actions that will result in a red card in association football will also lead to a red card in futsal or beach soccer.

Unlike in association football where a player is not replaced when they get a red card, futsal and beach soccer allows the team to replace a player that receives a red card after a 2-minute penalty.

That means for the next 2 minutes after a player receives a red card—unless a goal is scored—the team with the red card will have to play with one player less.

three players in beach soccer match


Just like soccer players, the team officials including the technical adviser and coach can get a red card for misconduct too. Once they get a red card, they will have to leave the pitch and watch the rest of the game from the dressing room.

Some of the instances that will force a referee to give a red card to a team official in soccer include:

  • Holding the ball and delaying the restart
  • Leaving the technical area to oppose the decision of the referee
  • Throwing an object into the field
  • Getting a second caution
  • Any form of violent conduct
  • Using unauthorized communication or electronic gadget

Referees rarely give red cards in soccer unless it’s very violent tackles that leave the player unconscious or with severe injury. Most times, they will caution the player which is often enough to deter them from further aggressive behaviors.

This explains why there are always fewer red cards compared to yellow cards in any tournament or league season. Here is an interesting statistic that will amaze you.

At the end of the 2020/21 EPL season, the top 17 teams had a total of 946 yellow cards and just 48 red cards. While some referees make controversial decisions around the globe, there is always a moral conscience when it comes to giving red cards—except in obvious cases—because of how it can change the game dynamics.