Understanding The Rules For Red Cards In Soccer

red card rules in soccer

When we talk about the Rules for Red Cards in Soccer, we dive into one of the most crucial and often controversial aspects of the game.

A red card is the ultimate penalty a referee can issue to a player, signifying a severe breach of the game’s rules.

What is a Red Card in Soccer?

A red card in soccer is a disciplinary action taken by the referee to signify that a player, substitute, or substituted player must leave the field immediately.

This action results from serious offenses that violate the rules and spirit of the game. When a player receives a red card, their team must continue the match with one less player, putting them at a significant disadvantage.

How Do You Get a Red Card in Soccer?

There are specific actions that can earn a player a red card in soccer. These actions are outlined by governing bodies like FIFA and the English FA and are intended to maintain the integrity and safety of the game. Here are the key offenses that can result in a red card:

Denying a Goal or Goal-Scoring Opportunity

A player who denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by committing a deliberate handball offense outside their penalty area can be sent off.

Similarly, denying a goal-scoring opportunity by committing an offense punishable by a free kick can also lead to a red card. A famous example of this is Luis Suárez’s handball in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, which denied Ghana a winning goal.

Serious Foul Play

Serious foul play involves a dangerous or reckless tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent. Such tackles can cause significant injury and are not tolerated in the game. An example of this would be Nigel de Jong’s kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso during the 2010 World Cup final.

red card ricardo costa

Violent Conduct

Violent conduct includes any use of excessive force or brutality against an opponent, teammate, official, or any other person. Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final is a classic example of violent conduct that resulted in a red card.

Spitting or Biting

Spitting at someone or biting them is considered highly unsportsmanlike and disgusting behavior, leading to an automatic red card. Luis Suárez has been notorious for biting incidents, most famously biting Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup.

Offensive Language or Gestures

Using offensive, insulting, or abusive language and/or gestures towards anyone on the field is grounds for a red card. This rule helps maintain respect and sportsmanship among players and officials. Joey Barton, known for his volatile temper, was sent off in 2012 for offensive language towards officials.

Second Caution

Receiving a second yellow card in the same match automatically results in a red card. This rule ensures that repeated minor offenses are cumulatively penalized. For instance, David Beckham was sent off in the 1998 World Cup for a second bookable offense against Argentina.

Entering the Video Operation Room (VOR)

Players are prohibited from entering the Video Operation Room (VOR) as it disrupts the VAR process and integrity of the review system. While this is a rare occurrence, it emphasizes the need to respect officiating boundaries.

Why a Referee Would Show a Red Card Instead of a Yellow Card

The distinction between a yellow and a red card lies in the severity of the offense. A yellow card is a warning for less severe breaches, while a red card signifies a serious violation.

Referees issue red cards for offenses that endanger player safety, demonstrate violent or unsportsmanlike behavior, or significantly affect the fairness of the game. For example, a dangerous tackle that could injure an opponent will earn a red card, while a less aggressive foul might only warrant a yellow.

red and yellow card in soccer

However, if a player receives two yellow cards in the same match, they are then also shown a red card. This is the case even if the two yellow cards are for completely different offenses.

What Happens When You Get a Red Card in Soccer?

When a player receives a red card, they must leave the field immediately. Their team plays with one fewer player for the remainder of the match. This numerical disadvantage often shifts the momentum in favor of the opposing team.

Additionally, the player faces further disciplinary action, such as suspension from subsequent matches. In major leagues, the suspension for a red card can range from one to several games, depending on the severity of the offense.

If a player is sent off , the following suspension will only apply to the league or tournament in which it was received. Therefore if a player sent off in a Champions League match, they will not be suspended for a Premier League game, only the subsequent Champions League fixture.

soccer player being sent off

Can a Player Appeal a Red Card?

Players can appeal a red card if they (and their team) feel it was issued unfairly. The appeal is made in writing and put before a committee from the relevant organization. If an appeal is successful it will mean that a subsequent match suspension will also be overturned and will benefit the team.

The recent introduction of VAR has also meant that controversial red card decisions can be reviewed straight away. This has the benefit of potentially keeping a player on the pitch rather than a decision being overturned after the match has finished.

How Many Players Can Be Sent Off in a Game?

There is no maximum number of players that can be sent off in a game. However, if a team is reduced to fewer than seven players, the match is abandoned.

This rule ensures that the game remains competitive and fair. In an extreme case in 2002, a match between Estudiantes and Gimnasia in Argentina saw 16 red cards issued, leading to the abandonment of the game.

What Happens If a Goalkeeper Gets Sent Off?

If a goalkeeper receives a red card, they must leave the field, just like any other player. The team must substitute another player to fill the goalkeeper position. If no substitutions are left, an outfield player must take the role of goalkeeper.

This scenario occurred in the 2013 Premier League match when Tottenham’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was sent off, and outfield player Kyle Walker had to step in goal.

What Happens If a Coach or Manager Gets Sent Off?

If a coach or manager receives a red card, they must leave the technical area and cannot communicate with their team. They are usually sent to the stands and are not allowed to have any influence on the game.

This rule emphasizes the importance of maintaining discipline and respect from the technical staff as well. In 2018, José Mourinho was sent off during a match for abusive language towards the officials, highlighting that even high-profile managers are not immune to the rules.


Understanding the Rules for Red Cards in Soccer is essential for players, coaches, and fans alike. Red cards play a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity, safety, and fairness of the game. Whether it’s denying a goal-scoring opportunity, committing serious foul play, or engaging in violent conduct, the consequences are significant and can change the course of a match.

By learning these rules, we can appreciate the discipline required in soccer and the importance of respecting the spirit of the game.


How many games do you miss for a red card?

The number of games missed for a red card varies. Typically, a straight red card results in a one to three-game suspension, depending on the severity of the offense. Repeated or severe offenses can lead to longer suspensions.

How many games do you sit out after a red card at the World Cup?

At the World Cup, a player who receives a red card is usually suspended for at least one match. However, the suspension can be extended based on the severity of the offense, as determined by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.

Can a red card be reversed?

A red card can be reversed upon review. If a club or national team appeals the decision, the governing body may rescind the red card after reviewing video evidence and referee reports, ensuring the decision was incorrect.

Red cards can also be reversed if the VAR advises the on field referee to review the video footage and they change their mind.

How much do soccer players get fined for a red card?

The fines for a red card vary depending on the league, players salary and the offense’s severity. Players can be fined anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Additionally, they may face further disciplinary actions, such as suspensions

Scroll to Top