World Cup: Knockout stage seems to be lacking a Cinderella story
The clock will strike midnight on the World Cup on Thursday and Cinderella will go home empty-handed once more.
Many Cinderellas in fact.
And that robs the competition of some of its romance.
The first round ends Thursday but gone already is Iceland, the can-do underdogs and the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup. The sentimental favorite of many, Iceland managed one point and one goal from the run of play but it did manage a spirited 1-1 tie with Argentina, a result that proved it belonged in the competition.
Gone, too, is Panama, the country that declared a national holiday in the fall when it qualified for its first World Cup. The Central Americans, who play their final game Thursday, did not prove they belonged, losing their first two games by a combined 9-1.
Mo Salah got two goals but no victories for Egypt and Peru, making its first visit to the tournament since 1982, may have been the best team in Group C despite finishing third. Its large, loud and lovable fans were certainly among the highlights of the group stage.
Australia was bounced in the first round for a third consecutive World Cup and Costa Rica, unbeaten on its way to the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil, was winless in Russia.
The host country came in ranked 70th in the world, wedged between Guinea and Macedonia, yet one-sided victories over Saudi Arabia and Egypt has taken it to the second round.
But Russia may wind up being the lone surprise in a round of 16 that will finalized Thursday and will include most of the usual suspects — France, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina. But not Germany.
Cinderella, meanwhile, again has gone home without her glass slipper.
Can you spot me $7.6 million?
Russia has increased its government subsidies for the World Cup by $13 million amid concerns over the legacy of the tournament.
Two government orders allocate an extra $7.6 million for temporary World Cup infrastructure and $5.3 million to the state company responsible for maintaining the stadiums. That brings total spending on the World Cup to around $10.7 billion, though that doesn’t include some key spending on infrastructure.
Analysis by Russian business news outlet RBK has put the total spending closer to $14 billion. Depending on who’s doing the counting, that makes it either the most expensive or second-most expensive World Cup, with some estimates putting spending for the 2014 tournament in Brazil at more than $15 billion.
Several Russian regional officials have asked for more federal support after the World Cup to help with the upkeep the massive stadiums being used for the tournament since they are expensive to maintain and often much larger than needed for domestic league games.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.