ZAGREB - Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura bore the brunt of the Croatian media's anger on Friday for awarding what they termed was a non existent penalty to hosts Brazil in the World Cup opening match with Croatia which they ultimately won 3-1.
"Injustice!" "Shame!" and "Referee shamelessly broke the Fiery Ones (Vatreni - the team;s nickname)!" read the leading dailies frontpage headlines as they lamented over an "invented penalty."
The press gave great play too to Croat coach Niko Kovac's comments to Croatian state-run HRT television that: "If that was a penalty then we should not play football anymore!"
Nishimura - Asian referee of the year in 2012 - turned the game when with the match evenly poised at 1-1 in the second-half he awarded the penalty believing that striker Fred had been fouled by Dejan Lovren, though, there appeared to be no contact whatsoever.
The influential Jutarnji List daily slammed un "inexcusable mistake by the referee at the World Cup opening match" by which he "pierced Croatia's heart with a sword."
"With a rather peculiar interpretation of the rules by Japanese referee Nishimura Croatia was deprived the right to fight against Brazil on an equal footing," wrote one of the paper's columnists.
Sports daily Sportske Novosti gave credit to Neymar, who converted the penalty to secure himself a brace in the match, but had no mercy for Nishimura.
"Neymar and Japanese referee Nishimura took away Croatia's big dream," it commented.
"Croatia began the match in excellent fashion and silenced Corinthians Arena with Marcelo's own goal. But Brazil woke up and turned the match the other way with the referee's help."
However, the papers said on the upside there was much to encourage Croat fans that their team could go further in the tournament where their best showing was a semi-final appearance in 1998.
Sportske Novosti said that (coach) Niko Kovac's squad "showed that it can be counted on at the tournament." Croatia produced a "solid game," it said but warned that the team lacked a player capable of orchestrating the flow of the match.
Jutarnji List stressed that Croatia performed bravely while the Vecernji List daily estimated that "after the defeat the pride remains." Croatia will go on to play Cameroon and Mexico, the latter two sides open their campaign later on Friday in Natal.