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The penalty area is directly in front of the net.
Michael Regan/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
The penalty area -- or the 18-yard box as it's also known -- is an area of the soccer field with its own special rules. As the name implies, some of these rules relate to penalties and the awarding of penalty kicks. But the penalty area serves other purposes as well, limiting when and how the ball can be played.
The penalty area is a box marked on the field in front of the goal. The box extends 54 feet in front of the goal line and 54 feet to either side of the goal. The penalty spot -- which marks the spot where penalty kicks are taken from -- is in the middle of the penalty area. The penalty arc forms a semi-circle at the top of the penalty area, 30 feet away from the penalty spot, but it is not considered part of the penalty area.
Normally when a player commits a deliberate foul -- such as intentionally pushing or kicking an opponent -- the opposing team is awarded a direct free kick. When a direct free kick is awarded, the defending team can defend against it by coming as close as 10 yards away from the ball to block the kick. But if a team commits a deliberate foul inside their own penalty area, the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick instead. When a penalty kick is taken, only the goalkeeper can defend against the shot. All other players must stay outside of the penalty area.
Goalkeepers Handling the Ball
The goalkeeper is a notable exception to soccer's ban on playing the ball with your hands. But the goalkeeper is limited by the penalty area. Inside the penalty area a goalkeeper can handle the ball with impunity, but if he touches the ball with his arms or hands outside of the area then it's considered a hand ball and the opposing team will be awarded a direct free kick from the spot where it occurred.
Goal kicks -- kicks taken by the defending team after the attacking team has played the ball out of bounds on the end line -- must be taken from within the goal area. The goal area is a smaller box within the penalty area. On a goal kick the ball is not in play until after it leaves the penalty area however; players on both teams must wait for the ball to leave the penalty area on a goal kick before touching it and opposing players must not enter the penalty area until the ball leaves the area.
- Michael Regan/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images