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By Peter Rutherford
SAO PAULO, June 12 (Reuters) - Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura was the toast of Brazil and the curse of Croatia on Thursday after his contentious penalty award proved decisive in helping the home side to a 3-1 opening day win in the World Cup.
Nishimura, who had had a solid game up until that 69th minute decision, pointed to the spot after Brazil's Fred went down under the slightest of challenges from Croat defender Dejan Lovren.
Television replays show the Fluminense centre forward threw himself to the ground after minimal contact.
Furious Croatian players surrounded the Japanese official, who responded by showing the stunned Lovren a yellow card.
"If that's how we start the World Cup, we'd better give it up now and go home," said angry Croatia manager Niko Kovac.
"We talk about respect, that wasn't respect, Croatia didn't get any. If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football anymore. Let's play basketball instead."
After the dust over the penalty decision had settled, Neymar, who had pulled Brazil level after Marcelo's 11th minute own goal, squeezed an unconvincing penalty past Stipe Pletikosa as the stadium erupted in celebration.
Oscar added a third goal in added time for the hosts to seal the win in their Group A opener.
Nishimura also ruled out a Croatian effort 12 minutes later when Ivica Olic was penalised after he rose for a cross with Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The keeper failed to catch the ball but Nishimura decided Olic had charged into him.
"This was ridiculous today and if we continue in this way we will have a circus," said Kovac. "The referee was completely out of his depth." (Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Ken Ferris)