One of the most commonly used phrases by soccer commentators and reporters is that a match was a 'game of two halves'. The inference of the phrase means that the events which occurred during the game were different in the second half, compared to the first half. We can't say this if it weren’t for the fact that in soccer we have 'half-time', which is a period where the players come off the field to rest.
Different Halftime Durations of Games
For the vast majority of soccer matches, the halftime period will be 15 minutes. There can be circumstances where the referee will extend this, for example there has been a floodlight failure.
In youth and child soccer, the half-time period is reduced.
For under 6s halftime is somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes with halves of 10 minutes each.
At under 8s it is 10 minutes for two 20 minutes halves.
Under 12s play 30 minutes each half with 10 minutes for half time.
Under 14s, 35 minute halves with 10 minutes halftime,
Once we get to under 16s the halves are 40 minutes with a 15 minute half time break.
What Happens at Halftime
The halftime period allows fans to get something to eat or drink or visit the bathroom. They can sit in their seat and bemoan or rejoice the events of the first half. Depending on the home team and the stadium, there may be some halftime entertainment.
While that is going on, the head coach or manager will be giving the team their thoughts about the game so far. They will also talk about what changes to tactics they wish to try for the second half. This is to motivate their team to improve their performance when they return to the field.
Halftime is also when the players will be taking on plenty of fluids. Some may need a massage to ease sore muscles.
Cooling breaks have occurred where the temperatures are excessive. To ensure players do not dehydrate, the game stops to allow drinks. Players go to the sidelines rather than to the dressing rooms. These cooling breaks should last no longer than 3 minutes.
Fifa medical officials recommend that cooling breaks occur if the temperature reaches more than 32° C or 90°F.
Halftime in Extra Time
In many tournaments if the match is a tie after 90 minutes, then an overtime period called extra time occurs. These extra time periods are two halves of 15 minutes each, with a halftime period between them of 5 minutes.
During this halftime in extra-time the players do not return to their dressing rooms. Instead, they gather around the halfway line in their two respective groups. The players will rest and coaches will have their last chance to give their players a pep talk or tactical change.
The Greatest Examples of a 'Game of Two Halves'
As we mentioned earlier, one of the hopes that a team may have is that halftime brings about a change in fortune. In this way, a team losing at halftime might hope to draw, or better still, win the match. If they are only one goal behind at halftime, that task is somewhat easier than if they were more goals down.
In the history of soccer, there have been some incredible turnarounds between the first and second halves.
In an FA Cup match in 2004, Manchester City were 3-0 down at halftime, away to Tottenham Hotspur. To make matters worse they were down to 10 men, having had a player sent off. They fought back to win the game 4-3 and proceeded to the next round.
Newcastle were 4-0 down at halftime to Arsenal in a Premier League match in 2011 and given little hope by anyone. Even more so when 4-0 was still the score with 19 minutes left for play. An amazing four goals in those remaining minutes saw Newcastle level the game at 4-4.
The most famous second-half turnaround came in the European Champions League final of 2005. Trailing 3-0 at halftime, Liverpool looked dead and buried to a dominant AC Milan side, and in fact, they were lucky it was not 4 or 5. Yet, in the second half, they scored 3 goals to level the match. No goals in extra-time meant penalties, and Liverpool won the shootout to cap an incredible comeback.