Soccer Rules: Direct Vs Indirect Free-Kick (A Guide With Examples)

Whenever a foul is committed in soccer, a free kick should be awarded yet the format of that free kick can change depending on the type of foul.

Soccer Rules: Direct vs Indirect Free Kick (A Guide With Examples)

There are two types of free-kick, the direct free-kick and the indirect one. Learning what your team can do with each free-kick situation can give you an advantage as set pieces are a key aspect of the modern game.

In this guide, we will look at why a free-kick exists, and the different rules and fouls that are involved in a direct and indirect free-kick. 

Why A Free-Kick Is Awarded In Soccer

The free-kick is the method by which the referee restarts a soccer game after one team has committed a foul. While the game is halted, the referee may issue a yellow card, or even a red one, but the free-kick will restart play. 

The opposing team must stand around ten yards away from the ball for the free-kick to be taken unless the attacking team decides on taking a quick free-kick.

Should a player fail to move away far enough in time, this could result in a caution for the offending player. 

A free-kick is exactly that, the player can kick the ball without being challenged and with a ten-yard gap from any opposing player.

With so much time and space to play with, a team can set up an attack or simply waste away some precious seconds towards the end of a game. 

All the players on the opposing team are forbidden from trying to win the ball back until the free kick has been taken. Only when the ball has been kicked, and the free-kick effectively taken, can play restart. 

There are only two distinct types of a free-kick in soccer and it is the referee’s decision whether to award a direct or indirect free-kick.

This is based on the type of foul that has been committed and it is worth learning which ones can result in which type of free kick. 

The Direct Free-Kick

When a direct free-kick is awarded, a player can attempt a direct shot at the goal. This is where you want your dead-ball specialists over the ball as so much practice goes into this very moment.

In training sessions, they would have mimicked this scenario of hitting the ball over (or under) the defensive wall and into the net. 

Rules That Govern A Direct Free Kick

Once a referee points their arm forward, you should be aware that a direct free kick has been awarded. Five main rules dictate how a direct free kick is applied and you should see each one in practice during a game. 

Stationary Ball

The ball has to be stationary when it is struck during a free-kick, which can prove difficult in windy conditions.

You typically see the free-kick taker set the ball down on the spot, then take a few steps back for a run-up. As soon as the ball moves, the referee will order the player to replace the ball on the spot.

Positioning

The positioning of the free-kick will be marked by the referee as the spot where the foul was committed. This is a crucial aspect of the game to remember if the foul was committed close to the edge of the penalty box.

Even if the players from both teams fall into the box, the free kick is awarded from where the foul was committed. This exact spot is where the free kick will be taken from.

Ten-Yard Distance

Though the opposing team typically constructs a defensive wall, all of them must be ten yards away from the ball. The distance is governed by the referee who will take ten steps to mark where the players should roughly be.

They may even mark it with a dissolving spray so the players know exactly where to stand and the referee can tell if they have moved forward.

You may even see a player lying down behind the wall to provide a barrier on the ground once the other players jump up. 

One-Touch

Whether the player decides to shoot for a goal or assist for a teammate, the free-kick taker may only touch the ball a single time.

That means they cannot shift the ball and shoot, that one strike of the ball is their only allowed touch. Like a penalty, if the ball hits another player then the free-kick taker is permitted to touch the ball again.

Direct Shot/Assist 

With a direct free-kick, there is the option of taking a free shot at the goal with the wall in place.

That can be a very tempting one as a player can dictate how they want to deceive the goalkeeper and potentially score a goal. However, they can also provide an assist by delivering a cross.

The Fouls That Result In An Direct Free-Kick

As the less complicated way to score a goal, the fouls that result in a direct free-kick are typically deemed more serious.

Generally, the referee awards a direct free kick if the foul is considered to be reckless, careless, or using excessive force. 

The seven primary fouls that typically result in a direct free-kick include, kicking or tripping an opponent, even attempting to do that will be punished.

If you jump towards or charge at an opponent, you can expect to be punished by a direct free-kick. 

Should a player commit violent conduct by striking, or trying to strike someone on the opposing team then this is also punished with a direct free-kick and likely a red card too.

Finally, a mistimed tackle on an opponent or a push would result in a direct free kick being given. 

More obscure fouls that can also result in a direct free-kick include spitting at an opponent or holding them. A deliberate handball, including the goalkeeper once out of their penalty box, will also result in a direct free kick for the opposition.

These fouls can be considered as obscure but to the referee, they are quite obvious and they also do not need to decide if they can be judged as reckless or careless.

In most of these scenarios, a player is attempting to win the ball from an opposing player but gets it wrong. Should the referee judge that a kick or trip has occurred then a direct free-kick is typically given. 

A direct free kick is also the punishment for serious offenses including striking an opponent, deliberately handling the ball, and charging at or jumping toward an opponent.

The act of spitting at an opponent should result in a red card so you should see a direct free-kick being given after the player has been ejected from the pitch.

Examples Of A Direct Free-Kick

Soccer Rules: Direct vs Indirect Free Kick (A Guide With Examples)

Some players spend hours on the training ground, practicing their free-kick technique so they can apply it during a match.

A lot of this is muscle memory and it does require a lot of dedication to get the ball exactly where you want it to go. 

For a free shot at goal, a direct free-kick still requires a lot of skill in how the ball is struck.

In most cases, a player would need to elevate the ball over a defensive wall, then have the ball drop into the goal, and have it bend away from the goalkeeper. 

Bend It Like Beckham

One of the most famous players for a direct free-kick is David Beckham who has scored several important goals from this scenario.

Beckham typically tried to apply bend to the ball to whip it away from the goalkeeper’s reach, as can be seen when he scored against Barcelona for Manchester United in 1998.

The Barcelona goalkeeper, Ruud Hesp, can see the ball going up, over the wall then dives despairing but as the ball has been hit with so much bend he is unable to save it. 

Beckham could also deceive the goalkeeper by hitting the ball into the opposite end of the goal to where the goalkeeper expects it to go.

This is largely due to Beckham typically aiming for the large space that the goalkeeper has vacated in the goal.

However, with a similar application of bend to the ball, Beckham could strike the ball into the goal close to the goalkeeper.

In a direct free-kick against Everton, Beckham whipped the ball to the right-hand side of the goal but as the Everton goalkeeper, Richard Wright, expected the ball to go to the opposite side they took a step in that direction and were deceived. 

Applying Spin

Applying a spin on the ball is a great way to flummox a goalkeeper and score directly from a free kick.

That may mean an excessive amount of bend, as Roberto Carlos famously demonstrated when he scored for Brazil against France in 1997.

With the French goalkeeper, Fabian Barthez, believing that the ball was heading out of play, the vicious spin fooled him when the ball went in against the post

Unpredictable Movement

By hitting the ball at the valve, a player can apply an unpredictable movement on the ball.

With the ball moving in the air, it may spin one way only to move the other way and is a great way of fooling a goalkeeper or applying bend to hit the far corner of the goal. 

For this method to work, a player typically hits under the ball with their laces to get the elevation and then the dip for it to go over a defensive wall and then into the goal.

Such a direct free-kick was scored by Juninho for Lyon against Bayern Munich

Going Under

With the expectation being on the defensive wall to block the ball from going above it, there is a slight variation you can try. As long as the wall jumps, you can strike the ball to go low under it.

The goalkeeper typically expects the ball to be hit over the wall and is typically unable to see it when it sneaks under the wall.

Certain teams attempt to prevent this from occurring by having a player lying on the ground behind the defensive wall.

A great example of this type of free-kick was performed by the Brazilian attacking midfielder, Ronaldinho, for Fluminese against Santos in 2011.

After dribbling past some Santos defenders, he won a direct free-kick just outside the penalty area at 20 meters out.

Instead of trying to lift the ball over the defensive wall and into the net, he predicted that the wall would jump up and the ball went underneath it.

The goalkeeper was suitably deceived and did not even move as Ronaldinho simply passed it and he could not see the ball in time.  

The Indirect Free-Kick

Soccer Rules: Direct vs Indirect Free Kick (A Guide With Examples)

An indirect free-kick can be a little more complicated than a direct one. For it to be a legal indirect free-kick, a player of the same team has to touch the ball first before a goal attempt can be made.

The free-kick taker cannot be allowed to shoot directly for the goal, otherwise, the taking of the free-kick could be deemed an infraction in itself. 

It rarely happens as players tend to understand the referee’s instructions yet if a free-kick taker shoots and scores then the goal will not count and a goal kick will be awarded to the defending team.

A goal can still be scored from an indirect free-kick but the ball has to be passed first. 

Rules The Govern An Indirect Free Kick

While an indirect free kick is mainly remembered for those occasions in the penalty box, they can be awarded anywhere on the field. You can tell when one has been given as the referee will raise their arm in the air.

This is markedly different from the other direct type of free-kick so it is worth looking out for. The referee’s arm will remain in the air until another player touches the ball or the ball goes out of bounds. 

Aside from those specific rules, the kick itself is similar to a direct free-kick. That includes the free-kick being taken from the spot where the foul was committed and the ball having to be stationary before it is struck.

The opposing players can still build a wall though they still have to be ten yards away from the ball unless it is given in the penalty box when the players have to stand on their line.

Finally, the designated free-kick taker is only permitted to touch the ball once which means no dribbling.

The most crucial rule for an indirect free-kick is the one that makes it so interesting. The designated free-kick taker is not allowed to shoot directly at goal.

They can try but the referee would disallow it and award a goal kick. A teammate must touch the ball before a shot at goal can be taken.

For an indirect free-kick far from the goal, you typically see the indirect free-kick used for a long pass to assist the team.   

Why Indirect Free Kicks Are So Rare In The Penalty Box

You rarely see an indirect free-kick at play until one is awarded within scoring distance. An indirect free-kick can become prominent when one is awarded inside a defending team’s penalty box.

This is rare as most fouls that are committed inside a team’s penalty box are ultimately punished by a penalty.

When an indirect free-kick is given inside the penalty box it can be entertaining seeing a whole team on their goal line trying to block the ball from going into their net. 

As an indirect free-kick in the penalty box is so rare, you can expect them to be awarded when a goalkeeper picks up a backpass.

It may only be a slight nudge of the ball, as happened when SonderjyskE played AaB in the Danish Superliga. An indirect free-kick was awarded as the ball was nudged into the goalkeeper’s arms.

From the resulting kick, the ball was touched back to Hende who smashed it through the wall and into the net to score for SonderjyskE. 

As the indirect free-kick is so close to the goal, and with the defenders crowding their goal line and six-yard box, it can be chaos.

There is so little space from the pass being made to the ball being struck that it can seem like a pinball.

The ball can ricochet around the penalty box with the defenders doing their utmost to block a shot at their exposed goal.

That can be seen when Bayer Leverkusen was awarded an indirect free-kick against Hertha Berlin. 

While it may not be from a backpass, a goalkeeper can still give away an indirect free-kick in their penalty area in various ways.

That could be from holding on to the ball for too long, typically for over six seconds before releasing it. 

If the goalkeeper handles the ball again after releasing it, before another player on their team has even touched it, then the referee could give an indirect free-kick.

Also, should the goalkeeper handle the ball from their team’s throw-in then this is another infraction that should result in an indirect free-kick. 

The Fouls/Situations That Result In An Indirect Free-Kick

A high foot can result in an indirect free-kick as it can seem like a slightly mistimed tackle but not enough of a foul to be punished by a penalty kick.

Such an occurrence happened when Real Madrid played Sevilla and Cristiano Ronaldo was struck on the head by a high foot as he challenged for a header.

On the spot where the foul took place, an indirect free-kick was given and Ronaldo hit the post.

The offense was considered dangerous play but not serious foul play and a high foot can be punished with an indirect free-kick inside the penalty area, but for either team.

Let’s say that a cross comes into the penalty box and a defender jumps to clear the ball. 

The attacker wants to take a shot at the goal so hangs out their leg to control the dropping ball.

Their foot is raised and connects with the head of the defender, though the defender is not hurt they could have been and it is deemed dangerous play from the attacker. 

A similar scenario can also play out which still results in an indirect free-kick but does not result in any contact.

That is because if an attempt has been made to commit dangerous play then this is still punished by an indirect free-kick. 

For instance, if the defender sees that the attacker has their foot raised and halts going for the ball to preserve themselves from being hurt, the referee can call a foul.

As the attacker’s foot was raised, this is interpreted as an attempt at causing dangerous play so an indirect free-kick is awarded. 

You may see an indirect free-kick awarded for those innocuous-looking situations where an infraction has been committed but not a foul worthy of a caution.

This can be when offside is given and play is restarted by a goalkeeper or defender via an indirect free-kick.

Any play, including dangerous play, that impedes an opponent but does not make contact is also applicable. 

Should a player commit any offensive, insulting, or abusive language then they may expect a caution, this can also be in the form of dissent towards a match official.

An indirect free-kick would also be awarded in this scenario, as it would if a player stopped the goalkeeper from kicking the ball out of their hands. 

A rare occurrence where a free kick may be given is when a player is deemed to have set up a back pass.

A player is only permitted to head the ball back to their goalkeeper for them to pick it up but if a player intentionally flicks up the ball to perform the header then this is deemed an infraction. 

The Quick Free-Kick

Soccer Rules: Direct vs Indirect Free Kick (A Guide With Examples)

While the defending team is inside the required ten-yard distance, an attacking team can decide to take a quick free-kick.

This can surprise the defending team and take advantage of that early, poor positioning while the defensive wall is still being set up. 

It is the referee who decides whether a quick free-kick can be taken and, aside from the lack of distance for the defending team, all other rules apply to the taking of the free-kick.

By taking a quick free-kick, the attacking team does forfeit their entitlement to retake that free-kick should an opponent intercept the ball inside the ten-yard distance requirement.

The Infractions That Can Occur During A Direct Or Indirect Free-Kick

Certain infractions can occur while the free kick is being taken, whether it is a direct or indirect one.

Should the ball be moving, or in an incorrect location to where the foul was committed, then the free-kick has to be retaken and placed in the right spot.

Should a player excessively delay the taking of a free kick then they can be cautioned for time-wasting from a restart of play. 

An opponent can also be cautioned if they fail to retreat the required ten yards, or deliberately prevents a quick free-kick from being taken.

If a free-kick taker touches the ball for a second time before it touches another player then an indirect free-kick can be given to the opposing team.

Final Thoughts

Learning the difference between a direct free-kick and an indirect free-kick can be a vital aspect of understanding set pieces. They can be a big part of a soccer game and even provide situations that would decide a match.

By setting your team up to defend one properly or having dead-ball specialists that can deliver an assist or a formidable shot at a goal is something worth planning for. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Shoot At Goal From An Indirect Free Kick?

You can shoot at the goal from an indirect free-kick but you cannot score a goal from one. Should the ball go into the goal straight from an indirect free kick then the referee will disallow the goal and award a goal kick to the defending team. 

Is A Kickoff Considered A Direct Or Indirect Free Kick?

It may be strange to think about, but you can score directly from a kickoff. Typically, two players will stand over a kickoff to pass the ball to one another to start, or restart, the game.

However, if a player was to shoot directly from the center spot and it went into the goal then it would count.