Football

Croatia coach and fans rail against ref over contentious penalty

Furious Croatia coach Niko Kovac said the Japanese referee in his side’s 3-1 defeat to Brazil was “out of his depth” after a bitterly disputed penalty changed the course of the World Cup opener.

The unfancied European team took a shock lead when Marcelo scored an own goal in the 11th minute before Neymar levelled.

But Croatia, ranked 18th in the world, were holding their own in the second half until referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot after Fred backed into Croatian defender Dejean Lovren and fell.

“If anybody saw that was a penalty, let them raise their hand. I cannot raise my hand. I didn’t see it,” said Kovac. “If you continue in this vein then there will be 100 penalties during this World Cup.”

Referee Yuichi Nishimura (C) of Japan gestures for a penalty during the 2014 World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo June 12, 2014.

Referee Yuichi Nishimura (C) of Japan gestures for a penalty during the 2014 World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo June 12, 2014. PHOTO: Reuters

Kovac branded the spot kick award “ridiculous".

Meanwhile, Croatian fans upset over the loss of their 'Fiery Ones' also pointed fingers at the ref. 

“It’s a pity, the referee ruined us!” said a bitter Goran Vlahic, 28, as he was leaving the square with his girlfriend.

National fever

The Croatian papers labelled the clash the “biggest match in Croatia’s history” and the whole country has been gripped by World Cup fever.

Cafes have installed new TV screens on terraces and been redecorated in red and white chequerboard patterns.

There were live broadcasts in the main squares of big towns and cities. Giant posters of the Croatian team stare out from shop windows in the capital Zagreb, especially midfielder Luka Modric and striker Mario Manduzkic. Many shopkeepers also wore red-and-white jerseys.

Source: AFP