Desmond Kane

Forget Neymar, Brazil’s new national hero is Yuichi Nishimura

Desmond Kane

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Brazil should buy a few Brahmas for Neymar, and a couple of Asahis for a Japanese referee called Yuichi Nishimura. Well done, chaps. Terrific job.

Without these two central figures, Croatia would have escaped with a point from the World Cup's opening match in Sao Paulo. They probably merited a draw from a frantic Group A get-together that should never have finished 3-1 in Brazil's favour.

Neymar scored goals in either half, the second from the penalty spot on 71 minutes, but such happenings could not have occurred without the contribution of the wretched Mr Nishimura. Asia's referee of the year in 2012 chose the biggest match of his career to turn in a horrid performance. Again, really well done, old sport.

With Luis Felipe Scolari's side trailing to Marcelo's own goal on 11 minutes, Nishimura opted only to book the Barcelona forward Neymar when he clearly elbowed his Real Madrid adversary Luka Modric in the first half.

Other referees would have opted for red. Nishimura lamentably offered up only yellow.

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Brazil were level minutes later courtesy of Neymar sending a shot spinning beyond the Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa via a post from 22 yards out.

Nishimura's night managed to get progressively worse when he somehow spotted a foul on Fred by Dejan Lovren that never was.

It was a clear dive, but Nishimura pointed to the penalty spot before booking Lovren rather than Fred. It was a stinking "home-town" decision that used to be famous during prize boxing matches in North America.

You do wonder how many referees are influenced by what is going on outside of the stadium. Namely, the need for Brazil to do well against a backdrop of protesters unhappy with the use of the public purse to host the finals.

Neymar planted the penalty to the right of Pletikosa, who should have saved. Pletikosa arguably could have prevented all three of Brazil's goals. Not that the locals will be complaining.

There was time yet for Nishimura to continue his error-strewn ways when he disallowed a legitimate Croatia equaliser after Ivica Olic was deemed to have fouled the Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar in the air on 82 minutes. It was another dreadful call, but one in keeping with the general poverty of his decision-making.

It is worth noting that Nishimura was involved in Brazil's last World Cup match against the Netherlands four years ago in South Africa when they lost 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

He sent off the Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo that night for a stamp on Arjen Robben.

What a time to restore your standing in the Brazilian community. Croatia were playing against Brazil and the referee. It was no surprise when Oscar ran in a third with a toe-poke to seal the 3-1 win around the 90th minute with Pletikosa going down in installments.

A sense of relief greeted Brazil acquiring three points, but at times you do question the legitimacy of recruiting such sub-standard referees.

It had been hotter in London than Sao Paulo prior to this match. There were plenty of Brazilians gathered in Trafalgar Square.

Samba drums, street food and smoothies from Amazonian fruits were apparently all the rage at an unofficial Brazil Day festival to mark the opening of their country's staging of the finals.

Back in the homeland, Croatia were supposed to fit into the mood of the day by playing the role of plankton against the five-times winners, but Niko Kovac's side were hardly resembling fodder. He had refused to park the bus, but must content himself with the knowledge that they were hardly outclassed.

A balmy 24 degrees in Brazil's biggest city with low humidity was more like a European summer than a trip into a furnace in South America. For Croatia, such conditions must have felt accommodating, but not as welcoming as the host nation's defence.

Nikica Jelavic saw his attempt at goal come off the Real Madrid defender Marcelo before rolling into the net to earn Croatia a lead.

The groans were palpable within the makeshift Arena de Sao Paulo, echoed by millions of supporters across Brazil's vast lands. Even the wildlife in the Amazon were groaning.

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In saying that, there were perhaps more wailing and gnashing of teeth during Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull's rendition of the official World Cup theme song when a sound system left Jenny from the Block barely audible.

The suffering did not last overly long as Neymar and Nishimura intervened on behalf of the host nation. Neymar is the first Brazilian number 10 to score a goal at the World Cup since Rivaldo in 2002 against England. He looks likely to make good on his promise.

The pundits on ITV summed up his importance during the half-time chat when Adrian Chiles bluntly put the question to the former Arsenal player Lee Dixon: "Who is Brazil's most important player?" Dixon replied: "Neymar".

Incisive, open and honest. All facets of good punditry. With 33 goals from 50 matches in a Brazilian shirt, Neymar, only 22, boasts quite remarkable statistics. He is inside the top 10 scorers in his country's all-time list.

Brazil can seal a place in the last 16 with a win over Mexico on Tuesday. It remains to be seen what happens when the referee is not on your side. Meanwhile, the protesters refused to get caught up in the euphoria as they continued to display their unhappiness with the decision to host these finals.

Croatia have their own right to feel disenchanted and sore about it all.

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