Many people don’t know what friendly games in soccer mean. This is why this article will explain all the ins and outs of such games to you.
A friendly game in soccer is a game that is not taken upon by any recognized competition. You can join it for fun or as a way of giving reserve players some on-field experience. The results of these types of games are not counted in stats and do not affect the standings in either a league or tournament.
This explanation of a friendly is probably not going to be enough to understand what it means and its importance. To do this, we need to look at why they are played and if they count for anything outside of the game.
Friendly games may seem like they’re just used to prepare for upcoming tournaments or maintain training during the offseason. They can provide coaches and players with the chance to experiment. For example, friendlies allow teams to play different styles of soccer which helps them work on skills their opponents will most likely use in a real match.
Friendly matches occur outside of championships or leagues, but still, involve a level of goal-setting and competition. Friendly matches are often called “exhibitions” because they can be between any two different teams that have no cultural or regional connections. They’re not usually a competitive game and mainly exist to showcase a team to other teams.
Why Soccer Teams Play Friendlies
When I first started watching soccer, it took some time to figure out what each game type in soccer meant. I had to learn the difference between tournament, league and cup games. One type of game called a “friendly”, or “exhibition” game seemed the most confusing to me as a newcomer.
The game was not eligible for a league or tournament and thus had no significant meaning to the team. The team didn’t earn any points from the game, they wouldn’t progress to the next round of competition and it appeared as though it would be forgotten soon enough.
If the game has no benefit for either team, there’s no reason to play. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that friendly games are beneficial in many different forms.
Teams can use exhibition games for a number of purposes – here are the three main reasons.
- To strengthen the player’s fitness level
- To give players more time to play with each other
- To test new tactics
Let’s explore each of these 3 reasons in greater depth.
1. To give players more time to play with each other
You might see a friendly soccer game between international teams. These types of friendly games happen throughout the season and can help players increase their enjoyment and comfort with their teammates.
As nationals, players are able to showcase their skills on the world stage during these international gatherings. The chance to play in international games is crucial for teams hoping to qualify for events like the FIFA World Cup or Copa América.
Qualifying games can be tough because players often go into them without having played together for a long time.
Before important games, you often play a friendly game. This allows players to get back into the flow of things together and prepare for what lies ahead.
National teams will also often play a set of friendly games before major international tournaments in order to get used to playing together before the start of their first competitive game in the tournament. These games can often serve as a chance for young players to add some experience and knowledge about the pressures that come from playing high-profile international games.
2. To strengthen the player’s fitness level
Quite often you will see a friendly game take place between soccer players in order to increase their fitness levels before a new season begins. They will do this so they can obtain the physical strength and energy levels that are needed.
Many soccer players take a break at the end of each season, which can last for weeks or months depending on the club, league, and team. Staying in shape is hard work but not all players manage to do so during this break.
After a long time with no games, it is important to give the players time to rest and prepare before their next game. A selection of friendly games helps players regain their game fitness and prepares them for the upcoming season.
3. To test new tactics
Playing a friendly game also allows managers to test out new tactics or strategies without having any notable negative impact on their competitive games.
Without the pressure and competitive aspect of a friendly, or exhibition game, your coach can experiment with different styles or formations that might not work in a league match.
Another reasons you may see a friendly game played is as a way to celebrate an event like a birthday, anniversary, or retirement. They’re also great as fundraisers.
It’s typically for a variety of reasons, like raising money for charity or an individual. The ticket funds plus any financial donations go to the designated charity, person, or organization.
One of the most common situations is at a testimonial game. A testimonial game is organized near the end of a player’s career to honor their contribution to the sport. This can involve many former players & local celebrities. It’s usually organized for personal, charitable, or commercial reasons and the proceeds go to someone worthy – often a player who deserves some recognition but will not be able to find work once they retire from the sport. In modern-day soccer, players will usually donate their earnings from a friendly game to a charity of their choice. With many playing in the top leagues being extremely wealthy already, they often choose to send these funds into an important cause that is close to them.
Do Soccer Friendlies Count?
People often ask whether friendly counts as a “real” game. In soccer, a friendly doesn’t count as something that points to the standings.
Friendly games in soccer don’t typically count towards anything – stand-alone games. International friendlies do count towards a team’s world ranking, and sometimes pre-season games do as well.
International teams are ranked by FIFA. Friendly matches can slightly alter the FIFA ranking system. A friendly game is given either a score of 05 or 10 depending on how important it is. The number is then added to the formula that FIFA uses to rank teams. Friendly games are the least important game on the FIFA world rankings table because they are not competitive.
Friendly matches do count when calculating a player’s goal tally
For a player, the number of friendlies is also taken into account when they score goals and make international appearances.
Goals scored in an international friendly can count towards a player’s career statistics. These goals have the same value and are worth the same as any other goal because these games are officially sanctioned by FIFA. A player is given a cap for playing in a friendly game (whether they play the whole time or not). This cap will be awarded as a reminder of their participation in the match.
What about rules?
In general, friendly games follow the same rules as any other match. For example, they usually last for 90 minutes and have a standard number of players. Also matches are held on standard soccer field dimentions. There are exceptions, however: some rule changes may be applied.
This is possible because a friendly doesn’t end with as many implications as a competitive game. One common example is substitutions, for which players swap out one player for another during the game.
In a normal competitive game, substitutions are limited to 3 per match and in a friendly game, the number is often increased as it’s a good opportunity for you to experiment with your lineup. Because of this, you may see more than 3 substitutions per match.
Another rule is that the referee can take a more lenient stance when giving punishments.
The name of this game suggests it should be played in a friendly manner and we expect the players to agree and play less competitively than they would normally. The referee will also take this into account, so there should be less stopping play in the middle of a game.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the term “friendly” in soccer. If you do hear the term again, it will make more sense than it did before.