Brazil's 3-1 win over Croatia on the opening day of the 2014 World Cup was plagued by controversy on Thursday as Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura made a string of questionable decisions in the host nation's favour.
Croatia took the lead through a Marcelo own-goal in the 11th minute but Neymar levelled things up 18 minutes later.
However, the young Brazilian star was lucky not to be sent off prior to that goal after he elbowed Luka Modric in the face, per football writer Pete Lansley:
Oscar deserves that. Man of the match. Not surprised Neymar shook ref's hand as he went off - should've been sent off for elbowing Modric— Pete Lansley (@PeteLansley) June 12, 2014
The most controversial point of the game came when Nishimura awarded Brazil a second-half penalty after Fred had gone down very easily in the box under pressure from Dejan Lovren. Bleacher Report's Will Tidey provides footage of the incident.
Neymar converted the spot-kick and Oscar's last-minute toe-poke gave Brazil a comfortable-looking win.
But Nishimura was viewed by many as having given Brazil the rub of the green—to say the least—including former England striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker:
It's a tight call for Brazil's man of the match between Neymar and the Referee.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 12, 2014
The Japanese 42-year-old is one of five referees to have been retained from the 2010 World Cup, per Fox Sports.
He took charge of Brazil's loss to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in South Africa, sending off Felipe Melo for stamping on Arjen Robben as the Dutch won 2-1.
The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward noted that on that occasion, Nishimura made the correct the decision:
At 2010 World Cup tonight's ref sent off Brazil’s Felipe Melo for stamping on Robben in Holland's 2-1 win. That was a good decision.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) June 12, 2014
He is a vastly experienced referee with 91 international matches under his belt before the start of the tournament in Brazil, per Sports Interaction.
In those games he issued a total of 327 yellow cards, 13 red cards and awarded 18 penalties at a rate of 0.2 a game.
However, his performance on Thursday was seen by many as abject, including Croatian coach Niko Kovac, per BBC Sport:
If that's how we start the World Cup, we better give it up now and go home. We talk about respect, that wasn't respect, Croatia didn't get any. If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football anymore. Let's play basketball instead. It's a shame.
If you continue like this you will have 100 penalties. I think 2.5 billion people watching on TV saw this was not a penalty. This was ridiculous and if we continue in this way we will have a circus.
This is not the first time Nishimura has incurred outrage through a string of refereeing decisions.
After TP Mazembe lost the 2010 Club World Cup final to Inter Milan, their fans were enraged by what they saw as a perceived injustice—Nishimura had awarded 21 fouls against the Congolese side compared to just nine for the Italians, per Ed Malyon in the Mirror.
Should Nishimura have awarded Brazil a penalty?
They left the stadium in pursuit of revenge, vandalising Chinese-owned shops after the game despite the fact that Nishimura is Japanese.
Nishimura seemed to be swayed on Thursday night by the fact he was refereeing Brazil at a Brazilian World Cup and thus gave the hosts many decisions they may not have got in another environment.
Croatia have every right to feel aggrieved and it must be hoped that the standard of refereeing improves as the tournament moves forward.
Italian Nicola Rizzoli takes charge of Friday's major clash, a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. He must fare better under pressure than Nishimura did.