David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: More refereeing howlers are on the way

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Referee Yuishi Nichimura from Japan gives penalty kick against Croatia. Photo / AP
Referee Yuishi Nichimura from Japan gives penalty kick against Croatia. Photo / AP

The World Cup is upon us, tear gas, riots and police violence mixed in with the best of the beautiful game. Brilliant. Brazil's great hope, Neymar, enjoyed himself in the opening win over Croatia in Sao Paolo yesterday.

A shame, then, the second best-known name out of the game was Yuishi Nichimura, who produced a clown of a refereeing performance which will have turned even reasonable-minded Croats apoplectic.

First Nichimura handed Brazil, in a squeeze at the time at 1-1, a desperately soft penalty. Then he disallowed a perfectly good goal for a foul on that most protected of sporting species, the goalkeeper.

Yes, it was tough being a Croat - or at least one imagines it was - yesterday.

Is Nichimura among the world's best referees - which you would think would be sound reasoning in making that appointment for the first match when a standard should be set - or was there some politics at play in his appointment?

With Fifa, aka FoQ (Friends of Qatar) - a corrupt, self-serving operation lacking any sort of principles - you'd be well within your rights to assume the latter.

The World Cup regularly serves up official howlers. Remember Frank Lampard's clear goal-that-wasn't against Germany four years ago? There's been a pile of them over the years.

But are incidents like that, and yesterday's clunkers from Nichimura all, ahem, part of the game? That is, should we just accept them as part of the fabric of the game and roll with the punches? You will find a surprising number of players, or former players, who'll argue to just get on with it. Rub of the green and all that.

Try telling the Croats as they contemplate a lost point in what shapes up as a tough group, also including Mexico and Cameroon.

England kick off against the Italians on a scrapheap of a pitch in the Amazon - sorry, Manaus - tomorrow morning.

Yesterday it was being spray painted green in places. Strips of sand are clearly visible. For the players attuned to the manicured lawns of the Premier League this could be akin to a trip to Scunthorpe or Grimsby Town.

Then again, if it's tough for the English players how will the fancy dans of Italia cope? England might yet find the old Route One works a treat tomorrow.

English satirical magazine Private Eye had a photo of the England team descending the steps of their plane upon arriving in Brazil, with the pilot calling out: "Shall I keep the engines running?".

A footballing feast is upon us. You are entitled to hope Nichimura's weak display will represent a tournament low point, but best keep that powder dry. Worse officiating, you can be sure, is coming.

- NZ Herald

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