Can A Goalkeeper ACTUALLY Leave the Penalty Box? (Explained)

The penalty box is unquestionably a goalkeeper’s primary area on the pitch. That is where the majority of the action takes place for the shot-stoppers. They would go to any length to avoid conceding to the opposition, or even better, to keep the clean sheet.

However, this does not imply that their options are limited to the six-yard box. When necessary, goalkeepers may exit the penalty box. In fact, this is becoming increasingly common in modern football.

Can a goalkeeper leave the penalty box?

The act of leaving the six-yard box for goalkeepers is, as a matter of fact, legal. However, once they leave the penalty area, they are treated the same as any outfield players. The shot-stoppers will automatically lose their right to handle the ball as soon as they leave the box, according to the Laws of the Game.

Nevertheless, there has been a minor shift since 2021, where the International Football Association Board (IFAB) changed the rule about the handball offence. It definitely also applies indirectly to the goalie leaving the box.

The Law 12.1 states that not every touch of a player’s hand/arm with the ball is an offence. Goalkeepers outside the penalty box will be booked (receive a yellow card) or even sent off if their moves fall under these categories:

  • touch the ball on purpose using hand / arm
  • score a goal in the opposition’s backline with hand / arm
  • deliberately move the hand/arm to block the shot or intercept the pass while facing one or more opposing players. Such applies in any situations in which his team is under attack, either clear goal-scoring chances or the attempt leading to them.

So, when exactly can a goalie leave the penalty box? You will learn possible scenarios based on the reference from the real matches.

When can a goalkeeper leave the penalty box?

Leaving the six-yard box is a risky business for the shot-stoppers. Nevertheless, it does not stop them from doing so. In fact, it could provide an advantage for the team, provided they could do multiple roles in the team’s system of play.

1. Leaving the box to clear the ball

For a goalie, leaving the box to clear the ball is one of the most common moves. It is necessary to keep the opposition at bay when the goalkeeper is the only player on the backline. Rather than waiting for the opposing player(s) to enter the box, making a clearance becomes even more important.

In modern football, going out of the penalty area has become a part of the tactics. The emergence of the sweeper-keeper role forces shot-stoppers to adapt to new tasks on the field. They are expected to not only clear the ball, but also to hold and control it before launching an attack from the defence line.

Today, the role of a sweeper-keeper has grown in popularity. Bayern and German skipper Manuel Neuer is the best example. There are other players who excel in this role too, including Manchester City’s Ederson and Inter Milan’s Andre Onana.

Here is an example of how Onana masters the sweeper-keeper role. The former Ajax goalie leaves the box quite often to dictate the play from the backline, instead of just clearing the ball. 

Unfortunately, his style of play cost him playing time in the 2022 World Cup. Cameroon national team boss, Rigobert Song, preferred the more classic goalkeeping role. Onana eventually had to leave Qatar early due to his disagreement with the manager.

2. Closing down the opposition

Aside from making clearances, most goalkeepers would often close down the opposing player. It is one regular move to stop their promising attack outside the six-yard box. Goalies can tackle them or simply close the gap as they approach the defence line.

Based on the modified rules in 2021, the shot-stoppers will not receive a yellow or card, if they touch the ball by accident outside the penalty area. It is only possible as long as they do not deliberately attempt to touch the ball while closing them down. Their hands must remain passive and be in motion only because of their body movement.

In the video below, one can see how Feyenoord’s Justin Bijlow swiftly closed down Twente’s attacking man. He tackled and pushed the ball outside the sideline without causing an injury.

Unfortunately, he received a yellow card afterwards. It was due to his unsporting behaviour instantly once he cleared the ball. Bijlow threw another ball into the pitch just before Twente’s throw in.

Other types of unsporting behaviour include showboating, which a referee has every right to show a yellow card for!

3. Dribbling the ball forward

This is an extreme move that only a few goalies are capable of. Leaving the penalty area and dribbling the ball forward is a very rare occurrence. Only a shot-stopper with high-rated dribbling skills and composure can do so.

Rene Higuita, a former Colombian international, is one such player. He did it on a number of occasions during his peak years on both the regional and global stages.

However, he was not always successful! In the round of 16 of the 1990 World Cup, his failure resulted in a fatal defeat for his country against Cameroon. Higuita lost control of the ball, and the veteran Cameroonian forward stole it and scored his second goal.

4. Joining the attack

Some goalkeepers are even willing to take greater risks by joining the attack. They do not only leave the penalty area but go forward in the final third, normally during the set-pieces situation. These goalies join the crowd in the opposition’s six-yard box as an extra man when they need a crucial goal before the final whistle.

It is also possible for the goalkeeper to score a goal, should the opportunity arise!

Such action is getting more and more frequent in modern football. Some did succeed in helping their teams score a late equaliser or winning goal. Others have to pay the price as it leads to conceding, instead of scoring one.

Manuel Neuer’s blunder in the third game of World Cup 2018 against South Korea was solid proof. He was trying to control the ball in the final third but Taeguk Warrior’s men managed to snatch it from the Bayern man. Germany then conceded another goal as Son Heung-Min found the back of the net in an empty goal.

A few did better than Neuer as they were even able to bag a goal. Peter Schmeichel did it for Manchester United in 1995. The Big Dane headed the ball home in the UEFA Cup match against Rotor Volgograd.

Liverpool’s Alisson did the same in the 2020/21 season. The Brazilian international netted the winning goal through his header against WBA.

5. Taking the set pieces

A goalie is no longer a stranger in taking set pieces, especially a penalty. Manuel Neuer, David de Gea and the former Villareal man, Geronimo Rulli did it in a shootout. Yet, only a few do it on a regular basis.

In late 1990s and early 2000s, Hans Jorg Butt was a famous penalty taker goalkeeper. He scored 32 goals in his career, mainly for Hamburg from 1997 to 2001 with 19 goals. Jorg Butt also netted seven times during his spell in Bayer Leverkusen.

In South America, there are the legendary Rugerio Ceni and Jose Luis Chilavert. Both were well-known not only as penalty takers but also as free kick takers. Ceni netted 131 goals only for his sole club in his career, Sao Paulo.

Meanwhile, Chilavert bagged 60 goals for his clubs, mostly Velez Sarsfield, and Paraguay. His best goal was when his long shot from behind the halfway line found the back of the net versus River Plate in 1996. Check out all his goals below!


It is possible for goalkeepers to come out of the box. However, they will be treated as every outfield player, where he is unable to use his hands during the play!

You can find out which situations would result in a goalkeeper getting sent off for a handball offence!

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