How Are Football Stats Defined for Betting?

football tactics boardFootball is by far the most bet on sport and offers more markets per match than any other events.  The rise of bet-builders, bet requests and more markets in general has meant that people are now betting on many more metrics to do with a given match.  20 – 30 years ago you wouldn’t bet on the number of shots on target, number of corners, offsides, throw-ins, etc., but these days these markets are now common place with all sportsbooks.  This leads to the question of where the bookies get these stats from and how do they ensure they are accurate and fair?  After-all the difference between what is classed as a shot or a shot on target could make the difference between winning a bet or not.

Well, there are stat-collecting companies that are tasked with collecting all of the necessary data on football matches. Private companies such as Opta and Prozone are utilised for this, and they have offices that are filled with analysts combing over every single detail of a game. This includes every touch, every tackle, every goal, every throw-in, and so on. Even each pass between players is collected this way, and it is also this key information that allows the analysts to monitor the overall ball possession, too.

All of the information that these analysts and stat-collecting companies gather is utilised by various sectors, including the online sports betting scene. Most of the stats used by online sportsbooks come from the Opta organisation, but it is key to know how the metrics are actually defined for this. After all, it is important that an analyst knows how a shot on target is defined, or what is defined as an assist, for example. What is the definition of each of the stats that the companies need to collect so that they are always giving the correct information via the Opta (or via other stat-collecting brands) site?


bookmaker football live streamYou will very frequently see the ball possession statistic show up on-screen during a football match. This is quite handy information, as it gives spectators the opportunity to see which side has had more time with the ball at their feet. Unfortunately, while it is one of the most common stats to see, it is also one of the most difficult to measure. Traditionally, ball possession was tallied using a manual clock, although today it is done very differently. Three people are employed who use video-based data collection tools while a match is in-play. This allows them to determine the time during which player has contact with the ball, as well as the location of that contact and the type of contact it is. Headers, tackles and out-of-play balls are still questioned by many, though.

At other times, you’ll find an additional time counter running in the background, which can be compared to a chess clock. Each team has its own clock ticking and when the first team is on the ball, the time is counting by its side. Once the second team takes control of it, the other clock starts counting the time. This method does stop both clocks when a player is injured or when a team is preparing a free kick or corner, for example.

Ball possession in football is defined as the amount of time that each team controls the ball during the match. Some controversy does exist at this time, too. Some people have questioned whether the amount of time is really the best way to calculate such. The point is argued even more when it is asked if the goalkeeper controls the ball for 15 minutes without really doing much with it, can it be considered as beneficial to the team in any way? Generally, it is thought that the more a team controls the ball, the higher their advantage is.

How is a Goal or Own Goal Defined?

own goal definition dictionaryIt may seem simple to define a goal or an own goal, considering it requires a football to go in the net in either circumstance. But different governing bodies do have different rules surrounding this, and companies like Opta do work alongside the relevant people to ensure the official decisions on goal scorers are reported on.

When it comes to deflections, a goal is usually awarded if the original attempt is on target. An own goal is generally awarded should the attempt be off target and deflected into the goal by an opponent.

Shots On-Target and Off-Target

womens football goalUtilising Opta once again, the definition of an on-target attempt is as follows:

  • A ball that goes into the net, regardless of the intent behind the kick or header.
  • A ball that is a clear attempt to score that would have gone into the net but was saved by the goalkeeper or is stopped by a player who is the last man with the goalkeeper having no chance of preventing the goal.

Therefore, any attempt that is blocked by another player who isn’t the last man, is not considered to be an on-target attempt. Shots that hit the goal posts are also not counted as being on-target, unless the ball actually goals in after hitting the frame and is awarded as a goal in the end.

It also the case that various specific circumstances can crop up that make it difficult to define an on-target shot. These are the following outcomes for whether a specific shot is considered on-target or not:


  • A deflected shot that would be going in, but for a save from the goalie.
  • A goal which saw the ball hit the woodwork on the way in.
  • A goal that was scored directly from a corner shot.
  • A shot that was cleared off the line by a defender, who is considered to be the last line of defence.
  • A shot that was going on target that is blocked by someone on the shooter’s same team.

Not On-Target

  • Any crosses that would be going into the goal, but the goalie catches or tips around for a corner.
  • Any blocked shots that a goalie does not save, and instead collects due to a lack of power.
  • A blocked or deflected shot that hits the woodwork.
  • Shots saved by the goalie that were going off target.
  • A corner that would be going into the goal, but is stopped from doing so by the goalie.
  • A defender’s clearance that hits an attacking player, which then goes towards the goalie and is saved.
  • A shot that hits the post, then the goalie and proceeds to bounce out.
  • A shot that hits the post and trickles on the line prior to being cleared by a defender.
  • A header or non-headed flick on, running through to the goalie from a corner or free kick.

The standard definition for a shot off-target is defined as any clear attempt to score a goal that:

  • Goes over or goes wide of the goal without hitting any other player.
  • Would have gone over or wide of the goal but gets stopped by a goalie’s save or by an outfield player.
  • Directly hits the goal posts and does not score.

What is the Definition of Offside?

assistant referee flagIt has been said that those who understand the offside rule in football are considered to be knowledgeable. Many people describe it in different ways, but essentially Law 11 of the Laws of the Game describes it the best. This states that a player is deemed to be offside if any of their body parts (except the hands and arms) are in the opponent’s half of the pitch, and closer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. The offside ruling is usually only given if they receive the ball while in that position.

According to Opta, Offside is awarded to the player deemed to be in an offside position where a free kick is awarded. Should two or more players be in an offside position when the pass is played, then the player who is considered to be the most active and trying to play the ball is given the offside.

What is the Definition of a Blocked Shot?

When players are trying to score, it may be the case that a blocked shot comes into play. This is any clear attempt to score that is going on target and is blocked by an outfield player. It must be at the same time as other defenders and/or a goalkeeper being behind the blocker. Alternatively, it is defined as an attempt that includes shots blocked unintentionally by the shooter’s own teammate.

In reference to clearances off the line by an opposition player, these are counted as shots that are on-target. Therefore, they do not get marked as a blocked shot.


Tackles can sometimes be tricky to definitively label, but Opta defines them as a point where a player connects with the ball in a ground challenge where he or she successfully takes the ball away from the player in possession.

The tackled player also needs to clearly be in possession of the ball prior to the tackle being made. It is not considered a tackle whenever a player cuts out a pass from one player to another.

What is Defined as a Goal Assist?

football players and goalkeeper contest the ball in the air in the boxAn assist is definitively the final touch of the ball which leads to the recipient of it scoring a goal. Should the final touch be deflected by an opposition player, then the initiator is only given an assist if the receiving players was the likely intended destination of the touch.

Should a shot that is on-target be blocked by the opposition, or is saved by a goalkeeper, or hits the woodwork, and a goal is scored from the rebound of such a circumstance, then an assist is still awarded. Similarly, if a player shoots or passed the ball and this forces an opponent to put the ball in his own net, an assist is still awarded.

One other thing to mention is that if a penalty or a free kick is taken, then the player earning that is awarded an assist should a goal be directly scored as a result of such. This does not occur if that player is the one who also takes the penalty or free kick, though.

Passes and Crosses

A pass is very simply defined as an intentional pass of the ball from one player to someone else on their team. This includes open passes, goal kicks, corners, and free kicks that are played as a pass. It does not include crosses, keeper throws or throw-ins from the side.

Speaking of crosses, these are defined as any intentional ball that is played from a wide position with the intention of reaching a teammate who is in a specific area in front of the goal.

Fouls and Penalties

football player lying injuredWith regard to fouls, there are two types of these defined by Opta. They are:

  • Foul Conceded – Any infringement that is penalised by a referee as foul play. Offsides are not considered to be foul conceded circumstances.
  • Foul Won – A player wins a free kick or a penalty for their team after being the victim of a foul conceded. Foul won does not include handballs, dives, back passes, illegal restarts, dissent, obstruction when a free kick is in-play, or a GK 6-second violation.

A penalty is collected on the foul conceded for both team and player, and a foul won that results in a penalty is only collected for players. When the penalty is taken, it is collected as a shot or a penalty pass for both team and player.


This is simply when the ball has left the pitch and is ruled as a corner. Corners occur when the ball goes out of play over the goal line and it was last touched by a member of the defending team.

A corner won is marked down for the team being awarded the corner, while a corner lost is collected for the team conceding it.

Goal Kicks, Throw-Ins and Cards

referee showing red card

Goal kicks are awarded to the team/player who is taking the goal kick, while throw-ins are defined in the same way, being awarded to the team/player taking such.

With regard to cards, these are collected in the form of yellow, second yellow or red card. Whenever it is possible, Opta proceeds with cross-checking the cards against official reports so as to match official statistics. That is, unless they are very clearly incorrect.