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The penalty area or 18-yard box (also known less formally as the penalty box or simply box) is an area of an association football pitch. It is rectangular and extends 16.5m (18 yd) to each side of the goal and 16.5m (18 yd) in front of it. Within the penalty area is the penalty spot, which is 10.97 metres (36.0 ft) or 12 yards from the goal line, directly in-line with the centre of the goal. A penalty arc adjoins the penalty area, and encloses the area within 9.15m (10 yd) from the penalty spot; it does not form part of the penalty area and is only of relevance during the taking of a penalty kick.
Within the penalty area is another smaller rectangular area called the goal area (colloquially the "six-yard box"), which is delimited by two lines starting on the goal-line 5.5 metres (6 yd) from the goalposts and extending 5.5 metres (6 yd) into the pitch from the goal-line, and the line joining these. Goal kicks and any free kick by the defending team may be taken from anywhere in this area. Indirect free kicks awarded to the attacking team within the goal area are taken from the point on the line parallel to the goal line (the "six-yard line") nearest where the infringement occurred; they cannot be taken any closer to the goal line. Similarly drop-balls that would otherwise occur closer to the goal line are taken on this line.
Previously, penalty areas extended the width of the field, but were reduced to their current dimensions in 1901.
Fouls punishable by a direct free kick (i.e. handling the ball and most physical fouls), committed by the defensive team within the penalty area, may be penalised by a penalty kick. A penalty kick is taken from the penalty spot. The penalty spot is located 12 yards (10.97m) away from the goal line.
The penalty area has other functions, including:
In a typical game, for the majority of time the penalty area is only occupied by the goalkeeper. The attacking team generally aims to get the ball and their own players into the defending team's penalty area, and a high percentage of goals in professional football are scored from within the penalty area. Usually during attacking set pieces, including corners, a large number of both attacking and defending players are in the penalty area and, although illegal, grappling between players is frequently observed.
Other research has examined the position on the pitch from which goals are scored. In a recent study Wright et al. (50) showed that from 167 goals from English Premier League, 87% of goals were scored inside the penalty area which is similar to the 90% observed by Olsen (36) for the 1986 World Cup whereas Dufour (14) reported 80% for the 1990 World Cup. Yiannakos and Armatas (51) reported that 44.4% of goals scored were inside the penalty area, 35.2% inside the goal area, and 20.4% outside the penalty area, for the 2004 European Championship in Portugal. Finally, Hughes et al. (22) showed that successful teams in the 1986 Football World Cup made more attempts inside the penalty area in comparison to unsuccessful teams.