As someone who has played soccer their whole life, it’s easy to see why the sport is so popular throughout the world. Pretty much every nation has a national team and to play the game, all you really need is a ball (or a makeshift ball).
If you’re not as accustomed to soccer, you might be wondering how the game works, how a winner is declared, and if it’s possible for a game to end in a tie.
So, can soccer games end in a tie?
Soccer games can end in a tie but only in certain situations such as league and exhibition games. The same goes for tournaments such as the World Cup, but only in group play. In the event a winner is required to progress a tournament, a winner must be declared.
There are many different factors in soccer that are put in place to help determine the conclusion of soccer games. The various circumstances that help decide a soccer game might seem confusing at first but as you read the rest of this article, you’ll get a better idea of how it works.
Soccer Friendlies and Exhibition Games
When we think of friendlies, we usually think of one national team playing another national team. For these games, like any regular season soccer game, they run 90 minutes with stoppage time added to the end of each half.
The amount of stoppage time added to the end of each half is at the referee’s discretion. Stoppage time at the end of each half usually ranges between 1-to-5 minutes and is influenced by how many breaks during play there were during that half.
For example, if a handful of players got injured during a half, the referee would most likely give five minutes of stoppage time at the end of the half.
On the other hand, if there was very little downtime in the half, the referee would probably give only one or two minutes of stoppage time.
Once stoppage time of the second half ends, the soccer game is over. It doesn’t matter if the game ends in a tie. So to answer your initial question, yes – friendlies and exhibition soccer games can end in a tie if the score is tied after the regulation 90 minutes.
These contests don’t go to penalty kick shootouts because a winner doesn’t need to be declared. These games are perfect for national teams and individual players alike who want to work on their skills in preparation for big matches to come.
Soccer League Games
Much like any other professional soccer match you’d ever go to, league games run 90 minutes long. The game is divided into two halves with stoppage time added to the end of each half. Much like friendlies, league games can end in a tie.
When this happens, each team earns one point, and if there’s a winner that team earns three points. However, if the game is taking place in the playoffs, a game can’t end in a tie because a winner is needed.
In these situations, after the initial 90 minutes, the game goes to extra time, which is divided into two 15 minute halves. At the end of each of these halves, there is stoppage time but is it is usually pretty short due to the length of each half.
The golden goal rule used to be in effect, where the team who scored first in additional time won the soccer game. Most leagues around the world no longer use this rule.
So if you go through extra time and you’re still tied, then you go to a penalty kick shootout. We’ll get more into penalty kick shootouts later in this article.
Soccer Home-and-Home Series / Soccer Aggregate Score
A home-and-home series is a two-game series that involves two teams that have the opportunity to host the other team. These series are usually used in playoff formats to help decide who is moving on to the next round.
The soccer games within a home-and-home series can end in ties but the series itself cannot end in a tie.
If you win both games of a home-and-home series, you obviously advance to the next round. In the event a series is split, the team that advances is the one who scored the most number of goals in the two games.
In the event both teams scored the same amount of goals, the team who scored more away goals moves on to the next round. So let’s look at an example: team A wins the first game 4-2 and team B wins the second game 2-1.
Who do you think moves on? In this case team A would advance on aggregate. Team A scored 5 goals compared to team B’s 4 goals.
If the aggregate score is tied, the team who scored more away goals would move on to the next round.
In the event that both teams scored the same amount of away goals, two 15 minute halves (30 minutes) will be added to the end of the second game. If at the end of this 30 minutes the game ends in a tie, then the game goes to penalty kicks.
The FIFA World Cup
Can World Cup games end in ties? Yes and no. If the World Cup is still in the group stage portion of the tournament then yes, the games can end in ties. Once the World Cup progresses into the knockout stage(s), then games can no longer end in ties and must go into extra time after the regulation 90 minutes.
For some background on the World Cup, the tournament is composed of 32 national teams who have to qualify for the event.
Each nation in the World Cup will find themselves in a group with three other teams, with the best two teams after the round-robin group stage advancing to the knockout stage.
In World Cup group play, wins are worth 3 points and ties are worth one point. Penalty kick shootouts aren’t a possible outcome during the group stage. Once you get to the knockout stage, if a soccer game ends in a tie after the regulation 90 minutes, you play two additional 15-minute halves.
There is no golden goal rule in these 30 minutes and if the score is still tied after the 30 minutes, then you go to penalty kicks. Once the 2026 World Cup comes around, we’ll see some changes to the structure of the tournament.
Starting with this World Cup, the tournament will field 48 different national teams and be composed of 16 3-team groups. The top two teams from each group will advance to a 32-team knockout stage, where ties can no longer happen after the regulation 90 minutes.
And a little fun fact for you, the United States, Mexico and Canada are jointly hosting the 2026 World Cup.
Soccer Penalty Rules
A penalty kick shootout takes place whenever you need a winner to advance to the next stage of a tournament. This means you have to play 120 minutes (regulation 90 minutes and 30 minutes of extra time) of soccer before you potentially see a shootout.
Before the shootout begins, one team calls a coin toss with the winner picking which net both teams will shoot on. After this, another coin toss is made with the winner deciding which team kicks first.
Generally, each team will pick five players to participate in the shootout. The players selected for the shootout had to play at some point within the prior 120 minutes of play. Once the players are selected a shooting order is created.
The teams will alternate between sending players to take a shot during the shootout. Each player will place the ball at the penalty mark, which is 12 yards (11 meters) away from the center of the goal line.
At this time, the rest of the players involved in the shootout have to stay within the center circle. The shooting player can’t strike the ball until the ref blows his whistle and the goalie can’t move off the goal line until the ball is struck.
The goalie isn’t allowed to leave his goal line early because it helps cut down the angle of the shot, giving the goalie an unfair advantage.
If the goalie ends up blocking a shot and the referee deems they left the goal line before the ball was struck, the referee can allow the player to retake the shot.
Penalty kick shootouts don’t always see all five shooters of each team taking a shot. If one team has scored more goals than the other team after the initial five shooters, the game is over and there’s no need to require all the players to take shots.
If each team goes through their 5 penalty kicks and the score is still tied, then the shootout goes to a goal-by-goal basis.
This means if a team makes their shot and the other team doesn’t, the team who made their shot wins the game. If the team who goes first makes their shot, the second team has a chance to rebuttal.
If the first team misses their shot and the second team makes their shot, the second team wins the game. During this process, each player has to take a shot before any player can take their second shot. This includes goalies.
Some additional points to make about shootouts are that shooters can’t touch the ball more than once and as long as the ball is moving it’s considered “live”. Many argue that penalty shootouts have no place in the game.
The critics of shootouts state that the better team doesn’t always win and that shootouts are usually decided by luck.
One thing’s for certain, soccer is the most popular sport in the world and there are unlikely to be any changes to the penalty shootout format in the near future.