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With the 2014 World Cup officially underway in Brazil, sports fans on in Japan are excitedly looking forward to the first game featuring the country’s best soccer players. The wait is almost over, as Japan is scheduled to take on Ivory Coast on Saturday night.

One Japanese citizen has already been part of the on-field action, though, as Tokyo-native Yuichi Nishimura was part of the officiating crew for the tournament opener between Croatia and Brazil, where he awarded a controversial penalty kick that some are crediting with helping to secure a victory for the host country.

The referee is an important part of any competition, in much the same capacity as the guy whose job it is to run any squirrels off the field before the game starts. Do your job well, and it’s likely the fans won’t think twice about your efforts. Screw up, and suddenly you’re part of the post-game report.

Unfortunately, Nishimura’s name has cropped up in the media several times during his career.

▼ Yuichi Nishimura (See? He just did it again!)

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Despite being honored as the top referee in Japan’s professional soccer league in both 2009 and 2010, as well as receiving an award as Men’s Referee of the Year from the Asian Football Confederation in 2012, the 2014 World Cup isn’t the first time Nishimura has found himself at the center of a controversy.

Four years ago, while officiating a match in Congo between Congolese TP Mazembe and Inter Milan, the heavy imbalance of fouls Nishimura assessed against the Mazembe, and the club’s eventual loss, led to a rash of vandalism targeting Chinese restaurants after the game.

▼ Because who has time for geography homework when there’s so much hooliganism that needs to get done?

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Before that, Nishimura was also involved in an incident at the 2008 African Cup of Nations. Nishimura elected not to eject players from the Angolan team who had pushed him during a match, and as magnanimous as the gesture was, he drew harsh criticism for not properly asserting his authority as referee.

Still, Nishimura was tapped to head the officiating crew for Friday night’s game between Brazil and Croatia, which was locked in a 1-1 tie up until the 26th minute of the second half, when the following happened.

With the host country on the attack, Brazilian forward Fred, hero of his countrymen and friend of web-based writers who hate typing out long names, moved into the penalty area in expectation of a pass from his teammate.

Moving in to quash this scheme was Croatian defender Dejan Lovren, who’s apparently only plain old “Dejan” to his close personal friends. As Lovren tried to position himself, he seemed to briefly tap the Brazilian forward on the rib cage.

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Immediately Fred’s hands flew up above his head, his body slid to the ground, and a yellow card appeared in referee Nishimura’s hand.

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Perhaps aware of Nishimura’s previous failure to protect his personal space from athletes, the members of team Croatia immediately cornered him at the edge of the field. The Japanese referee would not be swayed, however, and the call stood.

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Brazil’s Neymar knocked in the ensuing penalty kick, breaking the stalemate and giving Brazil a 2-1 lead, which it would go on to extend in an eventual 3-1 victory.

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The contact in the video above doesn’t seem particularly violent or disruptive to me, but I realize my own parameters for such things are skewed, seeing as how my personal experience with “football” involves the type with helmets and shoulder pads, not the one with shorts and knee-high socks. My opinion might not be so off base, though, if the reactions from Internet users in Japan are anything to go by.

“That wasn’t deserving of a penalty kick. I feel bad for Croatia.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Nishimura’s under pressure from FIFA to do this sort of thing. If the host country lost in the qualifying round, it might ruin the World Cup.”

“Nishimura blew the call and ruined a great game!”

“Croatia got beaten by the referee.”

“Dude, totally not worth a penalty kick! The referee is just helping out the Brazilian side.”

Some fans went so far as to suggest that Nishimura wasn’t just stacking the deck in favor of the Brazilian team, but that his actions made him a full member of the squad, turning to Photoshop to knock together a few images as proof.

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Croatia gets a shot at redemption Wednesday against a new opponent, Cameroon. And hopefully a new referee.

Sources: Gossip Sokuho, Yahoo! Japan, Hamster Sokuho, Mirror, Wikipedia
Top image: Twitter
Insert images: Wikipedia/Camw, Your Child Learns, YouTube, Twitter, Hamster Sokuho