Croatian press slam ‘shameful’ penalty decision in World Cup opener

Fans and pundits look past outrage to find upside in team's performance against hosts
Referee Yuichi Nishimura, right, is pursued by Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Nikica Jelavic and Ivan Rakitic of Croatia after awarding a penalty kick during the 2014 World Cup Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014. Christopher Lee / Getty Images
Referee Yuichi Nishimura, right, is pursued by Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Nikica Jelavic and Ivan Rakitic of Croatia after awarding a penalty kick during the 2014 World Cup Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014. Christopher Lee / Getty Images
ZAGREB // Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura bore the brunt of the Croatian media’s anger on Friday for awarding what they said was a non-existent penalty to Brazil in the World Cup opening match with Croatia, which the hosts y ultimately won 3-1.

“Injustice!” “Shame!” and “Referee shamelessly broke the Fiery Ones [Vatreni – the team’s nickname]!” read the leading dailies front-page headlines as they lamented over an “invented penalty”.

The press gave great coverage, 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 any more.”

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Nishimura – Asian referee of the year in 2012 – turned the game when the match was evenly poised at 1-1 in the second half. He awarded a penalty for a foul on striker Fred by Dejan Lovren, though there appeared to be no contact.

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”.

“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.”

The papers said the upside was that 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 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 next play Cameroon then Mexico. Those two sides open their campaign later on Friday in Natal.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: June 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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