Can It EVER Be A Foul If You Get The Ball First? (Explained)

One of the biggest debates in football is whether a player can get a foul if he gets to the ball first. 

There have been many harsh tackles done by the players who got to the ball first. The question is: Can the referee give a foul, or even send the player off?

In this article, you will learn about football laws and the important foul rules. This way you will get the answer to this question and will be able to use the knowledge in the next match you are playing (or watching).

You may want to note that there are many types of fouls that can be sanctioned. This article will focus on the physical fouls that involve tackling and unnecessary usage of force.

Will a foul be called if you get the ball first in football?

Before discussing this particular scenario, it’s important to learn what a foul is. 

And what’s a better way to do so than going through the Laws of the Game?

According to Law 12 a direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless, or using excessive force: 

  • charges
  • jumps at
  • kicks or attempts to kick
  • pushes
  • strikes or attempts to strike (including head-butt)
  • tackles or challenges
  • trips or attempts to trip

Now, it’s believed that if a player gets first to the ball and does any of these things, he or she will not be sanctioned. However, this is one of the biggest misconceptions in football!

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How did it become a misconception? 

The football laws weren’t that clear back in 2008 and stated that:  A direct free kick is awarded … if a player … tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball.

In this law, “before touching the ball” was explicitly mentioned. Because of this, it can be interpreted that once the player touches the ball, they are able to do whatever they please.

However, this law was changed in 2016 and now states: If an offence involves contact it is penalised by a direct free kick or penalty kick.

There isn’t a rule that focuses on this specific scenario, but the rule is clear. Every careless, contact that can injure a player must be penalised as well!

Notable examples

Commiting a foul while getting first to the ball is something that happens often and can sometimes be a game-changer. Here are a few popular examples in order for you to see how that looks in a game.

Jorge Fucile fouls Alexis Sanchez in Copa America 2015

In this match, the Uruguayan right-back got to the ball first, but tackled Alexis Sanchez in the process. It was a dangerous tackle, and the referee decided to send him off.

There was even a confrontation between the two teams because the Uruguayan players believed that since Fucile got first to the ball, it was a clear tackle.

Neuer fouls Higuain in the World Cup 2014

This is a different scenario from the one before. Here, Manuel Neuer jumped for the ball along with his opponent, Gonzalo Higuain, and hit him with his knee. The whole world thought that it was a clear penalty, but the referee decided that it was not a foul because Neuer got to the ball first. 

However, this happened two years before the rule change, so the referee’s decision is somewhat justified. After all, I think that it all depends on the referee and what he thinks is the best decision at that particular moment.

This rule is open to interpretation by the referee

However, this rule is really subject to the referee’s decision. The referee will be the one to determine if the player is really interfering with the opponent.

This can be really subjective, and different referees may have different opinions!

Now with VAR being available in football, it may make things much easier for the referee. In the past, they would have to make a decision at that point in time.

Now, they are able to take a look at the replays to decide if the player was interfering with the opponent or not!


There are multiple laws in the world of football that are rather contentious, which resulted in different interpretations of the same rule.

However, with the latest amendment to this law, it is now clear that a foul will still be called even when the player gets the ball first!

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