A lapse in stoppage time
A graphical, statistical analysis of mis-allocated stoppage time
Analysis, content and infographics by Falu Studios

How accurately do referees assess the amount of time to add to each half?

Current legislation allows the referee to determine how long a half lasts by adding on time for definitive stoppages during the half. It allows for natural stoppages, such as free kicks and corners, as well as injury stoppages and substitutions but surely penalties, goal celebrations and VAR referrals should be added to the duration of the half as well.

"Additional time is mostly one minute in the first half and three minutes in the second half. In a match in which many goals have been scored, the celebration of a goal often takes a lot of time, so this should be added"

Marco van Basten, 2017

In 2017, FIFA ordered referees to include goal celebration time and in the week before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup they stated that VAR referrals would also be added to stoppage time for each half.

As will be shown below, in almost all cases referees did not add the correct amount of time to the clock, thereby discriminating against any team needing a fair amount of match time to seek the required result.

To highlight the inaccuracies of the referee's assessment of stoppage time, Falu Studios tracked matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in order to build a set of infographics for match and tournament statistics and provide answers to the following questions.

  • Does the additional time added on by the referee accurately represent the lost time in a match?
  • Are referee's following directives from FIFA correctly?

The FIFA World Cup is a tournament between, currently, 32 national teams playing a combination of group and knockout matches, resulting in a total of 64 matches over the course of approximately a calendar month. The nature of the tournament means that a wide variety of scenarios are played out within a small sample of matches.

Early group matches can be highly competitive, later ones can be very edgy and nervy. Huge underdogs take on the giants of the sport simply trying to avoid defeat. Tactical squad rotations and points predictions affect team selection in the final group matches. In the knockout stages teams decide whether to push for a win, play defensively and hope for the best or 'park the bus' and wait for penalties.

Definitive stoppages

Definitive stoppages are those in which the play cannot be restarted even if players wished to do so. They are undisputed breaks in play that cause time to be lost. The four definitive stoppages counted for this study are as follows.
  • Penalty Taking
  • Goal Celebration
  • VAR/GLT Referral
  • Substitutions
Whenever referring to the definitive stoppages it should be remembered that this is the minimum tim ethat should be added. Any time lost to injuries, free kicks, goal kicks and other stoppages would increase the added time.

For analysing the stoppage time discrepancies, only definitive stoppages within the 45 minutes are included since that is when the referee's decision is made.

Correct Added Time = Definitive Stoppages + Other Stoppages


A look at the added time assigned by the referee in relation to the definitive stoppages during the half

Fig. 1 - The discrepancy between allocated time and definitive stoppages

Each line on the chart below represents a half of a match at the tournament.

Red lines indicate a half where the referee's allocated stoppage time was sufficient to cover all the clear breaks in play.

Blue lines are halves where the allocated time added to the half did not cover the clear minimum time lost even before injuries, time-wasting etc.

Fig. 2 - Differences in allocated time and definitive stoppages

Each bar on the chart represents a match at the tournament.

Black lines indicate the actual added time indicated by the referee at the end of normal time.

The bars indicate the difference between the referee's time and the definitive stoppages in the half. Blue bars show matches during the group stages and orange bars show knockout matches. Lighter bars represent a half where the referee's time was sufficient, darker bars indicate an insufficient allocation.

Click or tap a bar to view the match details.


We notice that the first halves had a far higher number of definitive stoppages accounted for by the added time (47%). This may be partially due to the unlikely event of a first half substitution, fewer goals scored and the reduced requirements for time-wasting early in the match.

However, in the second halves, almost 80% of all matches failed to account for these clear stoppages.

The longest period of injury time indicated by the referee across the entire tournament was 6 minutes. However, 26 matches (over 40%) had second halves that should have had a bare minimum allowance of 6 minutes.

The difference in randomness in the referee's added time further backs up the suggestion that referees are guessing or following a set model, even taking account of the lack of precision required when indicating the maximum time being allocated.

1st Half Added Time
1st Half Added Time
2nd Half Added Time
2nd Half Added Time
4 minutes of added time would have been barely adequate for only about 17% of second halves yet 63% were allocated up to 4 minutes.

In fact, 42% of all second halves had 4 minutes added time indicated by the fourth official, irrespective of the fact that these 27 halves had a spread of definitive stoppages ranging from 2:27 to 8:45.

"Every second lost by using the VAR is going to be added at the end of the match"

Massimo Busacca (Head of FIFA refereeing department), June 2018

A look at the extremes

Of the 128 halves of football that made up the normal time periods of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 107 had at least one stoppage for a goal, a penalty, a VAR/GLT referral or a stoppage that involved a substitution.

Of those 107 halves, 71 had an amount of injury time added by the referee that did not even cover those events, let alone any genuine injuries or time-wasting tactics.

Longest Definitive Time Lost

Three halves had clear stoppages of more than 10 minutes, with the combined time lost being 31:22.

The injury time added by the referees for these three halves was 13:00, meaning a total of more than 18 minutes of genuine stoppages were ignored by the referee in just these three halves.

In two of these cases, the lengthy stoppage time was, in part, caused by the use of VAR. FIFA long opposed this technology based on the perceived interruption to the flow of the game yet now they have succumbed to pressure, they forget to account for the referral in the added time on the half.

The other case involved an extraordinary half where England put five goals past Panama, including two penalties, which meant that around 5 minutes of the half was simply lost to goal celebrations. In this case it hardly mattered since all the goals were scored by one team, but what if the half ended 3:2 with 5 minutes lost? Would the losing team feel aggrieved?

In addition, the Iran v Portugal match had 3:22 lost to VAR, a penalty and a goal during the six minutes allocated stoppage time at the end of the second half. The referee increased the added time by just over a minute.

Croatia's lost opportunity

The final between France and Croatia was one of the most entertaining finals in the history of the FIFA World Cup and a fitting end to a thrilling tournament.

In a match deemed to be the best final since 1986, Croatia fought doggedly to contain the pace and flair of a fine French team but ultimately came up short in their first ever final appearance. The match had the first VAR referral in a final, a penalty, an own goal and a goal of pure comical genius. But were the fans and Croatia short-changed even in such an entralling match?

The graphic below highlights the difference in obvious breaks in play and the time added to the half by the referee in the match.

World Cup Final Injury Time

In the first half, stoppages for goal celebrations, VAR referrals and penalties accounted for precisely 7 minutes and 35 seconds with the French penalty accounting for a huge 5 minutes and 19 seconds in itself from initial VAR referral to the restart after the goal. At the end of the half, the referee added 3 minutes. Would Croatia have benefitted from the lost four minutes? We will never know.

The second half had more goals and substitutions that took 7 minutes and 26 minutes off the clock, for which the referee gave back 5 minutes.

So the total amount of time lost to definitive stoppages over the match was, staggeringly, almost exactly 15 minutes of which only 8 minutes were accounted for by the referee.

That's an incredible 7 minutes of match time that Croatia lost out on, even without accounting for any time-wasting tactics or injuries.

Whilst FIFA made claims before the tournament regarding fair stoppage time allocations, it is clear from the research here that the added time in no way accounts for obvious stoppages. When even their showpiece match can have more than 7 minutes ignored by the referee, surely it is time to look more closely at how added time is calculated.


From the analysis of the 64 matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup we can see that, despite statements from FIFA that stoppages for goals and VAR would be accounted for, the referee's assessment of added time is at best generally mis-calculated and at worst simply a formulaic guess based on historical norms for the added time for each half.

Fans are being short-changed on action (and therefore possibly goals and results) and teams are being hindered by unfair and random timekeeping.

Will the governing bodies investigate the situation?

When many senior players and officials have questioned the lack of accountability for stoppages such as goal celebrations and VAR referrals, we would hope that FIFA would introduce clear rules regarding the time to be added for definitive stoppages.

If you have enjoyed this article you may be interested in our companion piece 'The Half Hour Half' which investigates the suitability of a play clock format to eliminate time-wasting and also eliminate the discrepancies outlined here.


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