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Mistakes and dives already distracting from the football

THERE is still the best part of a month left to play in this World Cup but some people have had enough already.

Dejan Lovren and his Croatian team-mates were furious when the referee awarded Brazil a penalty. Picture: Reuters
Dejan Lovren and his Croatian team-mates were furious when the referee awarded Brazil a penalty. Picture: Reuters

"I think if this continues then no-one should play against Brazil," was the view of Vedran Corluka, the Croatia defender. "We should just give them the World Cup and everyone can go home. I think it is embarrassing."

Corluka was, of course, referring to the performance on Thursday night of Yuichi Nishimura, the Japanese referee whose handling of the opening match of the tournament was erratic and contentious to say the least. No wonder the Croats - beaten 3-1 by the hosts despite securing an early lead - were somewhat vexed in the aftermath. "Shameful," was coach Niko Kovac's succinct summing up.

"We were quite simply shocked with the fact that he communicated with us in Japanese all the time," Corluka complained later.

Further poor decisions dogged Mexico's opening match against Cameroon - two legitimate Giovani dos Santos goals were ruled out for offside - and while on that occasion at least the right result was achieved, it should not deflect from another woeful performance from the officiating team.

Further controversy was the last thing FIFA needed following allegations of corruption relating to the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid, and president Sepp Blatter's refusal to leave his post either quietly or quickly. World football's governing body needed the focus to return to football and the positive aspects of the game but they were not so lucky.

Granted, in the Brazil win, there were goals for poster boy Neymar, an encouraging performance from underdogs Croatia, and the hosts and favourites getting off to a flying start but that was not what dominated the post-match discussion. Instead it was referee Nishimura who found himself the subject of substantial Croat ire.

Any referee can make a mistake, especially in such a high-pressure situation, but when one makes multiple errors in a game it becomes harder to ignore. By the end Croatia had a list of grievances as long as their arms. Neymar, they felt, could have been sent off early on for thrusting his arm in Luka Modric's face, the Barcelona forward instead only earning a yellow card. They saw no reason for the referee to blow for a foul after striker Ivica Olic contested - fairly - a high ball with Julio Cesar, the Brazilian goalkeeper. Croatia went on to put the ball in the net, although the whistle had long sounded by then.

The main gripe, though, centred on the match-changing decision to award Brazil a penalty after 70 minutes with the score tied at 1-1.

It was the sole contribution of Fred all night as the striker took possession with his back to goal, felt Dejan Lovren's breath on his neck, and tumbled to the ground. First impressions suggested it was a dive and it did not look any better with every subsequent re-run. "Very soft penalty. People say big teams get the big decisions. That's a prime example. Not a penalty for me," tweeted Graham Poll.

In fairness, given the English referee infamously once booked the same player three times in a World Cup match, it did seem a case of the Poll calling the kettle black.

Players, of course, do not make things easy for referees and simulation is likely to be a major issue throughout the tournament. What a pity, though, that it should prove so influential so early on.

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