Japanese fans shamed by ref's howler
Bloggers echo sentiments of furious Croatia coach over Yuichi Nishimura's awarding of soft penalty to Brazil in the World Cup opener
Japanese fans hung their heads in shame on Friday after referee Yuichi Nishimura's controversial performance in the World Cup opener helped Brazil to a 3-1 win over Croatia, further clouding Fifa's showpiece tournament.
Social media in Japan lit up after the official's decision to give a soft penalty to Brazil, which changed the balance of the closely fought match. Several posts showed mocked-up photos of Nishimura wearing a Brazil jersey.
"There's a lot of Nishimura bashing, but quite right," tweeted shinokc. "That was not a penalty. Feel so sorry for Croatia."
Echoing the sentiments of Croatia's furious coach Niko Kovac, who claimed Nishimura had been out of his depth, sanadamasayuki2 commented: "It's a tough job for us dithering Japanese."
Anticipating a further backlash, tonbuhin tweeted: "Oh dear, if Brazil win the World Cup the whole world will say Nishimura was the MVP [most valuable player]."
"Injustice!" "Shame!" and "Referee shamelessly broke the Fiery Ones [Vatreni - the team's nickname]!" read the front-page headlines of the leading newspapers in Croatia as they lamented an "invented penalty".
The influential Jutarnji List daily slammed an "inexcusable mistake by the referee at the World Cup opening match" by which he "pierced Croatia's heart with a sword".
Kovac warned the World Cup could become a "circus" after Nishimura, Asian referee of the year in 2012, pointed to the spot after striker Fred went down inside the area under minimal contact from defender Dejan Lovren.
"This was ridiculous and if we continue in this way we will have a circus," he said. "If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football any more. Let's play basketball instead. The lads played their hearts out but that was outright thuggery by a referee who was just out of his depth for a game of this magnitude."
Lovren went even further, branding the penalty awarded against him a "scandal" and questioning the referee's right to be officiating at the showpiece event.
"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."
The 42-year-old Nishimura also disallowed a Croatian goal and should arguably have shown Brazilian star Neymar a straight red card for elbowing Luka Modric.
He has been an international referee since 2004, and has officiated in several tournaments including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
At the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, Nishimura was shoved by Angolan players during an ill-tempered quarter-final with Egypt but failed to send any of them off, and did not feature in the rest of the tournament.
In 2010, Congolese fans incandescent at his performance in a Club World Cup game took rather misguided revenge by vandalising a Chinese restaurant in their country.
Although twice voted by the J-League as their referee of the year, he has long been controversial among Japanese fans, not least for his reputation for awarding dubious penalties.
Fellow Japanese referee Masayoshi Okada was sent packing by Fifa after just one game of the 1998 World Cup, following the furious reaction of England players to his effort during their 2-0 win over Tunisia.
However, Nishimura's display is likely to linger longer in the memory, having significantly altered the momentum of the opening game.