Furious Croatia coach Niko Kovac blamed "out of his depth" referee Yuichi Nishimura and warned the World Cup could turn into a circus after a contentious penalty decision effectively cost his team the opening game of the tournament against Brazil.
Japanese ref Nishimura ruled that Croatia's Dejan Lovren had fouled Fred when the Brazilian fell to the floor with 20 minutes remaining and the score at 1-1. Neymar converted the penalty for his second goal of the game and they went on to win 3-1 in Thursday's Group A match.
"This was ridiculous today, and if we continue in this way we will have a circus," Kovac told a news conference dominated by questions about the penalty. "If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football anymore. 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."
Croatia's fans were also furious with the Japanese official. "I'll never eat sushi again," said Goran, a Croatian fan who attended the game as he ate dinner afterward. "I guess the world was against us today."
Kovac, who said his team deserved at least a draw from a match played at a packed Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo, also felt Oscar's third goal near the end of the game should not have been allowed due to a foul earlier in the move.
"Was there a foul on my player? Yes. It was a foul. But that's life. We will march on. We will not be swayed. My lads have fought for two years to reach the World Cup. They worked hard, prepared, and then they were faced with such a penalty decision here," he said.
"You can imagine walking into our dressing room - what kind of mood my lads are in. The referee was well-placed, he was not unsighted, he saw everything and he took that decision," he added. "I don't blame Fred at all."
Croatia have every right to feel aggrieved when they wake up this morning. Nishimura's decisions were barely believable. Neymar could have been sent off for his elbow on Luka Modric, it was never a penalty when Fred dived in the box and Croatia were also unfortunate to have a goal disallowed for a foul on Julio Cesar. No one is questioning Nishimura's integrity, but unconsciously he must have been swayed by everything that was at stake for the host nation. A lamentable performance, and one can only hope Croatia make it through the group anyway. Oh, and giving up sushi seems an overreaction.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
It's Mexico v Cameroon at 5pm today in Group A's second game. Then we have the wonderful prospect of Spain v Netherlands to open Group B - a repeat of the final four years ago. Chile v Australia brings things to a close at 11pm tonight. What a way to get the first full day of action underway.
WHAT JOEY BARTON SAID
WHAT THE MEDIA SAID
Paul Hayward, Daily Telegraph: "After all the acrimony and scandal, the last thing this World Cup needed was for a referee to reward a dive in the penalty box by the host nation’s centre-forward, thus tarnishing a night that should have belonged to Neymar, the elected world beater of this Brazil team. Not long after elbowing Croatia’s Ivica Olic in the face, Neymar decided that his feet needed to do the next bit. The dragged shot that brought the hosts level in this dramatic World Cup opening match was a catharsis for the star and his nation. His disputed penalty, after Fred had dropped like a bag of lead under a feather challenge, was less worthy of celebration. This tournament is ingenuous in finding new ways to alienate its audience."
- Sports & Recreation
- Yuichi Nishimura