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What is striking an opponent in soccer? Definition, Result, Referee Signal, Examples

striking an opponent in soccer

In soccer, striking an opponent is a foul that is committed when a player makes physical contact or attempts physical contact with an opponent by using a body part other than their foot. Striking an opponent is a physical foul that is typically punished by a direct free kick.


Striking an opponent is a foul in soccer that occurs when a player makes physical contact or attempts to make physical contact with an opponent, using a part of their body besides their foot. While contact naturally occurs throughout the game, it must be controlled and with the intent of playing the ball. Striking an opponent is a foul that applies to most types of illegal contact between players that are not considered kicking or holding (these actions have their fouls).

Actions considered striking an opponent include hitting, slapping, elbowing, head-butting, kneeing, and bumping. Hitting an opponent with a thrown ball, rock, or other object is also grounds for assessing a striking opponent’s foul. Although striking an opponent usually involves physical contact, it is not required for this foul to be called; attempting but failing to strike an opponent will also result in a foul being called. Striking an opponent can be called at any point on the field, regardless of possession or location of the ball. Incidental contact that does not affect play is not considered a striking an opponent foul.


A striking opponent foul is punished by a direct free kick being awarded to the non-offending team. The team against whom the foul was committed is permitted to kick the ball from the spot of the foul, with the potential to score a goal. The result of striking an opponent foul is consistent throughout amateur and professional leagues, as the International Football Association Board (IFAB) sets the rules followed at all levels of soccer.

A referee will caution a player and show a yellow card if they determine the foul has been committed recklessly. If a referee determines the foul has been committed using excessive force, the offender will be shown a red card and ejected from the match.

Referee Signal

A referee will whistle to stop play when a striking opponent foul is called. Then the referee will extend one arm horizontally away from the body to signal a direct free kick. Play will not be immediately stopped if the defending team commits the foul while the attacking team possesses the ball past midfield. In this case, the referee will signal advantage and allow play to continue until a change of possession or out-of-bounds occurs.


  • One player is running down the field in control of the ball. An opponent, running alongside, makes a play for the ball but swings their arm wildly, elbowing the player in the face.
  • As a player is jumping to head a ball, an opponent on the ground head-butts them.
  • Away from the ball, a player drives their knee into an opponent’s leg, attempting to knock them off their path.
  • After a disagreement, a player attempts to punch an opponent but misses.