In FIFA and other soccer federations, matches outside of competition or tournaments are known as “friendlies.” Teams participate in these exhibition games for various reasons to help further the success of their organization. Here is everything you need to know and more about friendly matches in the great game of football (soccer).
What is the Difference Between a Friendly Match and a Regular Match?
The chief difference between friendly games and regular football matches is that friendlies don’t affect a team’s standings in a tournament. Soccer friendlies are non-competitive exhibition matches usually occur at the end of the offseason. These games are like preseason games in the NFL, NBA, or NHL, and spring training games in the MLB.
What is an example of a Friendly Match?
An example of a friendly match in soccer would be if the New York Red Bulls (Major League Soccer) went to England to play Arsenal (English Premier League) as a preseason game.
Are the Rules and Play the Same During a Friendly Match?
Friendly games usually use the same rule book as regular-season games. That means that you will see the exact soccer pitch as you would during the regular season. Games are still 90 minutes long, and penalties occur for illegal plays.
Occasionally, teams will relax rules to make players safer early in the season. For example, some friendly matches will allow unlimited substitutions so that everyone can play and get in shape for the upcoming season. Having unlimited substitutions is a great way to get more players into the action and give fans more chances to see certain players play.
When Do Friendly Soccer Games Occur?
In most circumstances, soccer teams will play friendlies before the season to get in shape. National teams will also play in international friendlies before tournaments like the World Cup or the Olympics. The flexibility of a friendly means that there can be matches at any time during the year.
Some leagues will have exhibition games during mid-season breaks. These are great opportunities to ensure that players are in shape to restart the second half of the season.
During the 2019 season, the Premier League banned clubs from hosting friendly soccer matches during its inaugural winter break because it didn’t want teams to use the opportunity to fundraise for their clubs.
Why are Friendly Matches Important?
Friendly soccer games are essential for many reasons. While most viewers look at them as preseason or training matches, these non-competitive games are also used to honor retired players, fund fundraising, or connect fans with national teams before international competitions. Here are some of the significant reasons soccer clubs participate in friendly matches.
One of the most straightforward reasons for hosting a friendly game is that it helps bring fundraiser money for a soccer club. If a team is playing a rival, the opportunity to watch entertaining soccer can bring fans into an arena, helping the club pay for administrative fees. These big matches are critical for smaller soccer clubs with smaller operating budgets.
One of the most important reasons for hosting an exhibition game is to help players get prepared for an upcoming soccer season. National and International club teams will host preseason soccer games to help players warm up and get in shape for tournaments. National teams, in particular, will host international friendly matches before qualifying rounds for the Olympics or World Cup to get used to the pace and demanding nature of competition play.
Friendlies also allow teams to add new soccer players to a roster to evaluate their playing with others. Since these games don’t have any bearing on the league season, it’s a low-risk way to get new players into the lineup. Often, coaches may not see how prepared athletes are until they play a full, 90-minute game. This opportunity to play is essential for developing new talent.
The best way to think of a friendly game is like Major League Baseball spring training. Teams already know who 90% of their roster will look like to start the season, so the remaining 10% is an excellent way for players to compete for the final roster spot. Since spring training is about a month of baseball, it gives coaches enough time to evaluate players to see if they can help their team during the regular season.
Usually, fans can’t see their national team play until they come to a nearby city to play international friendly soccer. One reason fans love friendlies is that it allows them to see their favorite players live. National teams like the US Women’s Natural Team routinely tour their country to play games with new fans.
Sometimes teams will honor retiring players during these tours in a tribute match. In these games, the rules are relaxed so that older fan favorites can show off in front of the fans.
One popular rule that gets relaxed during tribute matches is the substitution cap. The relax substitution rule allows the retired player to sub in and out of the game as much as they want during their last game. Allowing more substitutions also gives more players a chance to play in front of their fans and family, which is excellent for the game.
Do Goals in a Friendly Soccer Match Count for a Player?
Any goal during a friendly soccer match that a player scores counts on their career record. The reason that these goals count is that FIFA sanctioned the game. However, if FIFA did not approve the friendly match, the goals are not official.
What is the Criticism of Friendly Matches?
While friendly matches are easy-going and non-competitive, it’s often hard for athletes to intentionally play poorly. That means they can and often get serious, which opens players up for injury. When players receive an injury in exhibition games, it directly impacts the team for the regular season.
International friendly games also force players to pick their club team or their national team. Both FIFA and the UEFA Champions League require teams to release national team players for international tournaments like the Olympics or World Cup. However, they don’t have to release players for friendlies.
Conclusion: What is a Friendly Match in Soccer
Since friendlies have no impact on FIFA rankings, many people see them as unimportant games that they can ignore. However, despite the criticism of these games, they’re vitally important to the teams that take part in them. For fans of the sport, friendlies provide a unique opportunity to watch their national team play in person and see new talent take to the field.
In summary, friendly matches are similar to MLB spring training. Spring training has a relaxed feel to a baseball game, which is good for fans and players. Like spring training in baseball, friendly soccer matches can allow teams to evaluate players and see if they can make the team.