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Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity Denied (The 4 Ds)

Law 12 provides that a defender whose violation of the Law prevents a goal or denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity must be sent off and shown the red card.  The "professional foul" which is taken in a cynical attempt to prevent opponents from scoring requires a quick, firm response by the referee.  Such misconduct by the defender overshadows the severity of the foul itself.

In order for a player to be sent off for denying an "obvious goal-scoring opportunity," four elements must be present:

  • Number of Defenders -- not more than one defender between the foul and the goal, not counting the defender who committed the foul
  • Distance to goal -- the closer the foul is to the goal, the more likely it is an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
  • Distance to ball -- the attacker must have been close enough to the ball at the time of the foul to have continued playing the ball
  • Direction of play -- the attacker must have been moving toward the goal at the time the foul was committed

If any element is missing, there can be no send off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.  Further, the presence of each of these elements must be "obvious" in order for the send off to be appropriate under this provision of Law 12.

However, the foul might, by itself, warrant a card -- a caution for unsporting behavior, for example, if the challenge was reckless or a send off if the challenge were violent.  If the foul by the defender is both violent and qualifies as an obvious goal-scoring opportunity offense misconduct, the referee should include both facts in the game report but must only list one official reason for the red card.

Referees are reminded that offenses which deny a goal-scoring opportunity are not limited to those punishable by a direct free kick or penalty kick but may include technical fouls for which the restart is an indirect free kick.

To download this and other position papers from the U.S. Soccer Referees Department in .pdf format, please visit the Position Papers section of