TOKYO (AFP) - The Japanese referee whose decisions in the opening match of the World Cup triggered a storm of controversy has shrugged off criticism of his performance.
Yuichi Nishimura awarded Brazil a soft penalty and decided against sending off superstar Neymar for an elbow in the host side’s 3-1 win over Croatia on June 12, leading to furious protests from the Europeans and lighting up social media.
“I was prepared for (criticism) before the match,” the 42-year-old Nishimura told a news conference late on Thursday in his first comments since the game.
“That’s all part of the job.” Explaining his decision to award a penalty for Fred’s dramatic flop, he added: “If you look at how it happened, the forward was looking to shoot in one move. The defender put his hands on him. That was a mistake.
“Some of the criticism was quite severe, but some of the opinions raised were a help to me. Refereeing is tough.” Social media lit up after Brazil’s contentious victory, with several posts mocking up photos of Nishimura sporting a Brazil jersey or superimposed over the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.
It was no laughing matter for Croatia, who also had a goal harshly disallowed by the Japanese official.
However, Nishimura took umbrage with claims made by Croatian players that he did not speak English and had addressed them in Japanese. “I spoke English on the pitch,” he said.
“Those I spoke to understood me. I just refereed the way I always do.”
For fans of Japan’s J-League, however, Nishimura is a polarising figure with a reputation for awarding dubious penalties and he has been in scrapes at international tournaments before.
At the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, Nishimura was shoved by Angola players during an ill-tempered quarter-final with Egypt but failed to send any of them off, and did not feature in the rest of the tournament.
In 2010, Congolese fans incandescent at his performance in a Club World Cup game took misguided revenge by vandalising a Chinese restaurant in their country.
Nishimura brushed off a confrontation with angry Croatia fans at the airport after the Brazil match, saying he had attempted to blend in with travellers by dressing casually only for volunteers to blow his cover by holding up a greeting sign for him.
“The security staff protected me,” he said. “There was a minor coming together but it was nothing serious."