Just one game into the World Cup, and referees are already in the spotlight. The refereeing standards at the World Cup are always hotly debated, and Yuishi Nishimura made sure this one won’t be any different after a controversial performance in the opening match on Thursday.
For Croatia coach Niko Kovac, the Japanese official was out of his depth on such a big stage, and risked making “a circus” of the World Cup. “I usually never attack referees, but this time I can only say: shameful,” Kovac said after his team’s loss to a Brazil swung on a questionable penalty. “This is a robbery.” Nishimura pointed to the spot when Brazil’s powerful forward Fred fell to ground from a slight touch on his upper left arm by Dejan Lovren.
Neymar converted the 71st-minute penalty, giving the host nation a 2-1 lead after trailing early in the match. Some referees may not even have allowed Neymar to stick around for that long. Nishimura showed the Brazil star just a yellow card in the 26th for pushing a forearm into the throat of Croatia playmaker Luka Modric. That incident sparked the first agitated clamour around the referee, and more followed as Croatian frustration grew late in the game and after the final whistle.
“I never saw in my life that a referee don’t speak English,” said defender Vedran Corluka, though it is required of World Cup referees. “He was speaking something in Japanese.” So the World Cup has its usual refereeing furor earlier than usual. Though Nishimura is a full-time referee at his second World Cup, his display revived complaints from Europe about varying standards.
“The referee was completely out of his depth,” Kovac said. “If we continue in this vein there will be 100 penalties in the World Cup.”