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How Much Soccer Is Played In 90 Minutes?

06 Jul 2018, 05:23 IST

The tiki-taka rhythm that has endeared so many neutrals to the Spanish National Team was rendered a bit offbeat by Iran during their second match of the 2018 World Cup. Throughout the first half, Iranian players channeled their inner thespians as they placed more importance on scoring acting contracts than an opening goal. Embracing the role of the victim, Iranians cried out to the heavens as mild tackles, misunderstood pats, and this little piggy games gone awry left Iranians sprinkled about the pitch. It was clear that the second highest ranked Asian team in the competition couldn’t compete with the Spaniards, so why not engage in some age-old time-wasting?

Football: Iran vs Spain at World Cup
Football: Iran vs Spain at World Cup

The first half was truly inspirational. Not in the sense that I now want to try out for the local production of The Tempest, but rather in a more numbers oriented fashion. The prolific and ostentatious timewasting undertaken by the Iranians yielded a paltry three minutes of first half stoppage time. Any spectator with a vague understanding of how long sixty seconds feels like might suspect this number to be a little low.

FIFA Stoppage Rules

The laughable quantity of first half stoppage time prompted me to dust off my stopwatch and record each stoppage of play in the second half. According to FIFA, stoppage time covers dead-ball situations that occurred as a result of substitutions, player injuries, the removal of players, time wasting, or other events that result in excessive stoppage of the game. Throw-ins, goal kicks, and free kicks generally don’t count towards stoppage time unless an inordinate amount of time has been wasted. It’s logical to assume that the center referee uses a stopwatch to record stoppages throughout the game, however this isn’t the case. The calculating of stoppage time is largely an arbitrary act. It’s thought that for each goal or substitution thirty seconds are added to the end of each half, but in reality it’s in the hands of the ref. As According to Law 7 of the FIFA Laws of the Game, the amount of stoppage time is up to the discretion of the referee. There is no known standard used that refs abide by when calculating stoppage time. 

Iran-Spain Actual Stoppage Time

If the ref of the Iran-Spain match had used a stopwatch to record stoppages –like I did- his wrist would have read 22:07 by the end of second half. Despite Spain scoring in the 54th minute leading to less histrionics by the Iranian players, stoppages still added up to 22 minutes and 7 seconds. This number indicates that just as much if not more time was spent ticking away in the first half, thus turning a 90-minute game into a 45-minute match. From any underdog’s standpoint, the logic is sound. Iran’s chances of getting a result against Spain are much better if they only have to play 45 minutes of actual soccer. But don’t pat Iran’s coach for finding a way to defeat the odds just yet (let’s not forget that they ultimately lost 1-0). This dark art can also be found in games where the odds of winning aren’t insurmountable.

In the opening match of the most recent edition of the Confederations Cup between NZL and Russia, FIFA recorded a meager 47 minutes of actual game time. In a showdown where neither team was favored -thus negating the usage of time-wasting tactics- the ball was still only rolling for a total of 47 minutes. The forward-thinking tandem formed by behavioral economist David Sally and goalkeeper turned Ivy League professor Chris Anderson found that among the top European soccer leagues in the 2010/11 season the ball was active for an average of 63 minutes per game. In this same season Stoke City games were lowest in the league averaging 58.52 minutes while Manchester United led with 66.58. This tells us that regardless of the quality disparity, many games warrant more than a couple minutes of stoppage time added for each half.

Potential Remedy

Time is a construct that shouldn’t be arbitrarily manipulated by one man. In the attempt to take the responsibility of timekeeping out of the referee’s hands, FIFA is considering transitioning to 60-minute games where the clock stops when the ball is not active. Like all new changes to the world’s game, players and spectators are divided. Proponents argue that it will create clarity and introduce fairness while detractors say that it’ll chop away at the game’s romanticism.

Despite sentimental ties to traditionalism, the world's game is changing fast. With the most recent rule-change of allowing an additional substi during UEFA extra time matches we could see rule changes regarding timekeeping be enacted sooner rather than later.

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