With penaltygate, comes first big controversy of tourney

  • AFP, Sao Paulo
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2014 15:43 IST

Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura bore the brunt of the Croatian media's anger on Friday for awarding what they termed was a non-existent penalty to hosts Brazil in the World Cup opening match with Croatia which they ultimately won 3-1.

"Injustice!" "Shame!" and "Referee shamelessly broke the Fiery Ones (Vatreni - the team's nickname)!" read the leading dailies frontpage headlines as they lamented over an "invented penalty."

The press gave great play too to Croat coach Niko Kovac's comments to Croatian state-run HRT television that: "If that was a penalty then we should not play football anymore!"

Nishimura - Asian referee of the year in 2012 - turned the game when with the match evenly poised at 1-1 in the second-half he awarded the penalty believing that striker Fred had been fouled by Dejan Lovren, though, there appeared to be no contact whatsoever.

Read:Brazil win 3-1 against Croatia

The influential Jutarnji List daily slammed "inexcusable mistake by the referee at the World Cup opening match" by which he "pierced Croatia's heart with a sword."

"With a rather peculiar interpretation of the rules by Japanese referee Nishimura Croatia was deprived the right to fight against Brazil on an equal footing," wrote one of the paper's columnists.

Sports daily Sportske Novosti gave credit to Neymar, who converted the penalty to secure himself a brace in the match, but had no mercy for Nishimura.

"Neymar and Japanese referee Nishimura took away Croatia's big dream," it commented.

"Croatia began the match in excellent fashion and silenced Corinthians Arena with Marcelo's own goal. But Brazil woke up and turned the match the other way with the referee's help."

However, the papers said on the upside there was much to encourage Croat fans that their team could go further in the tournament where their best showing was a semi-final appearance in 1998.

Sportske Novosti said that (coach) Niko Kovac's squad "showed that it can be counted on at the tournament."

Croatia produced a "solid game," it said but warned that the team lacked a player capable of orchestrating the flow of the match.

Jutarnji List stressed that Croatia performed bravely while the Vecernji List daily estimated that "after the defeat the pride remains."

Croatia will go on to play Cameroon and Mexico, the latter two sides open their campaign later on Friday in Natal.

Croatia defender slams referee

Furious Croatia defender Dejan Lovren branded the penalty awarded against him in the World Cup opener a "scandal", questioning the referee's right to be officiating at the showpiece event.

Read:Slice of Brazil in opening ceremony

Unfancied Croatia took a shock lead when Marcelo put the ball into his own net early in the Group A match before Neymar levelled in front of a jubilant crowd in the Corinthians Arena.

But the European side were holding their own in the second half until Japanese ref Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot after Fred backed into Lovren and fell.

Watch: Croatian fans in Zagreb berate referee for the loss

"I think this referee didn't deserve to be here," said the Southampton player. "I don't know for what he deserved to be here. It's really disappointing for us because I think we were playing a good game against a big team, Brazil.

"Two billion people I think saw that it was not a penalty. I didn't touch him… We're really disappointed but what can you do against 12 players? You can't do anything," he added.

"I'm sad, that's it, because we played a good match and the referee -- it wasn't a mistake, it was a scandal. It's a scandal for everyone, it's a scandal for FIFA. I think this referee shouldn't be at this World Cup."

Frustrated Croatia coach Niko Kovac said the referee was "out of his depth" but his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari was adamant Nishimura was correct to award the spot kick converted by Neymar to make the score 2-1.

"If anybody saw that was a penalty, let them raise their hand. I cannot raise my hand, I didn't see it," said Kovac.

"If you continue in this vein then there will be 100 penalties during this World Cup."

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