Soccer-Japanese ref riles Croatia with soft Brazil penalty

SAO PAULO, June 12 (Reuters) - Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura endeared himself to Brazil fans with a contentious penalty award in the World Cup opener on Thursday, as Neymar put away the spot kick to give his side a 2-1 lead against Croatia late in the Group A opener.

Nishimura, who had had a solid game up until that point, pointed to the spot after Brazil's Fred went down under the slightest of challenges from Croat defender Dejan Lovren.

Furious Croatian players surrounded the Japanese official, who responded by showing a stunned Lovren a yellow card.

After the dust 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. (Reoporting by Pter Rutherford; Editing by Ken Ferris)