Fact check: Does FIFA prevent rebounds from landing in no man’s land?

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Does FIFA prevent rebounds from landing in no man’s land?

In a recent Reddit post quoted below, redditor pwomboli raises suspicion about the fact that rebounds very rarely end up in no man’s land:

“They always seem to bounce back directly to an attacker, a defender or out of bounds…

They rarely fall in a place where there are no players, very rarely on rebounds from the goalkeeper after a shot, but other types of rebounds just bounce directly to a player.

And nope, I don’t know a thing about coding, I just think there are some shenanigans with “ball physics”
(– /u/pwomboli)

We previously dealt with similar claims related to deflections and tackles. Yet, we decided that this one was worthy a fact check on it’s own.

Is there anything fishy going on with rebounds?

There is no point in disputing the claim that many rebounds end up with a player from either side. But the fact alone just doesn’t lead to the conclusion that this must be the product of foul play.

As always when it comes to FIFA conspiracy theories, the supporting evidence is absolutely absent. Neither the original post quoted above nor the commentators supporting it make any attempts to rule out natural explanations.

The natural explanation that ought to come to mind is the fact that penalty areas usually are pretty crowded when someone takes a shot.

Crowded areas, many interceptions

As an example of a intercepted rebound , take a look at this example that we have discussed previously. Ignoring the graphics glitch, you will notice a total of eight outfield players occupying the penalty area.

To give you an idea about just how crowded that is, let’s look at what it actually takes for eight players to cover the entire penalty area, making it possible for a loose rebound to excape without being intercepted.

According to the laws of football, a penalty area should cover 40.3 x 16.5 m = 665 m2. If our eight players are spread across the entire penalty area, each of them will need to cover 26 m2 corresponding to the area of a circle with a radius of 5.1 meters. Since most professional footballers are able to reach speeds around 30 km/h, they will be able to cover the entire area in less than a second, meaning that a lose ball is very unlikely to escape interception.

Players position in order to intercept

Further, players of course aren’t spread randomly across the penalty area. The illustration below shows how the players in the example clip are positioned. I also included circles to illustrate each player’s 1-second range of operation.

The orange bars illustrate the trajectory of the shot.

The point I want to make here is that players of course will position themselves where the chances of intercepting a pass or a rebound are biggest. The grey striker on the left and the pink defender to his right run for the far post. And they do that because that’s where rebounds usually go, given the angle of the shot.