How Long is a Soccer Game? Full Breakdown
The game of soccer (football) is one of several sports that is difficult to pinpoint ahead of time exactly how long it takes to complete. This is because unlike most American sports (or at least the franchise modelled ones i.e. NHL hockey, NFL football, NBA basketball etc.) the game clock not only runs up instead of down, but more importantly it does not stop…at all…until the referee chooses to blow their whistle at the end of each half. For all other stoppages in game play the clock keeps ticking with the expectation that this time is added to the end of each half. But even then as we will see, the amount of time is fully at the discretion of the referee. Of course there are many further nuances that make the question of how long a soccer game lasts both simple to answer and yet hard to explain. Let’s give it a go!
Professional Soccer Game
The short answer is a professional soccer game is 90 minutes long, comprising of two 45 minute halves and a 15 minute half-time break in between. Each half runs up from 0 to 45 minutes on the clock (46 to 90 in the second half), with the option of what is referred to as injury (or stoppage) time at the end of each half.
Injury / Stoppage Time
This is where the referee is empowered to add additional minutes for any in-game stoppages typically from: fouls, throw-ins, corners, substitutions, time wasting (yep!) and of course injuries. With the recent adoption of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) there can be a considerable amount of accumulated delays which now also contribute to injury time.
Throughout the half, the referee on the field keeps track of all such stoppages with the help of his watch and communicates this amount to fourth referee on the sidelines. It is the fourth referee who then indicates the amount of stoppage time to be added. Note that this is a minimum amount of time but technically the referee is authorized to add more if they choose but no less. On occasion referees have been known to stop a game a few seconds before the full stoppage time has been played.
Unless there are significant stoppages, the first half typically includes 1 minute of stoppage time with the referee reserving the bulk of added time for the second half. Footballing convention suggests that every substitution should allow for 30 seconds of added time. With each team having and usually using their 3 substitutions each in the second half of games, that’s already 3 minutes before even calculating other stoppages (injuries, time wasting, VAR, stray dogs etc.). Yet the average amount of second half added time is 4 minutes.
So adding it all together a professional soccer game will normally last approximately 110 minutes:
|First Half Injury Time (typical)||1|
|Second Half Injury Time (typical)||4|
Most soccer fans know to allow for 2 hours out of their schedule when planning to watch a televised game. Similar to an NBA fans planning for a 2.5 hour game.
Knock out games that involve the potential of extra time become a bit more complicated. If two teams are tied after “90 minutes” they then play an extra 30 minutes comprised of two 15 minute halves and a 1 minute break to switch sides. There is often no added time after the first half of extra time, but I am yet to watch a game where the referee successfully enforced the 1 minute half-time switch break.
Extra time second half injury time tends to vary but let’s go with 3 minutes:
|Break between Full Time and Extra Time||10|
|Extra Time First Half||15|
|Extra Time First Half Injury Time (typical)||0|
|Extra Time First Half Injury Time (typical)||3|
Going even further, if a game is still not decided after extra time and needs to go to penalties that’s a further amount of time to be played. There is a break between Extra Time for the coaches to select their 5 penalty takers and the order of the remaining players in case sudden death is needed. Of course penalties can also vary since they keep kicking until a a team wins, but let’s assume 15 minutes:
|Break between Extra Time and Penalties||10|
In conclusion a professional soccer game can last anywhere from 2 to 3 hours depending on whether it is a regular 90 minute game or if it goes to extra time and then penalties:
|Regular game (no extra time or penalties)||110 (just under 2 hours)|
|Game with Extra time||155 (almost 2.5 hours)|
|Game with extra time then penalties||185 (just over 3 hours)|
In this article we only focused on the professional soccer game. Official times differ as you go through different age groups as players train and are conditioned differently (as an example, see the US Youth Soccer Policy on Players and Playing Rules).