Host Russia is soaking up the unexpected success of its national team at the 2018 World Cup after it qualified for the quarterfinals by beating Spain in a penalty shootout on July 1.
And why not? The last time Moscow could celebrate such an achievement was nearly 50 years ago.
Yevgeny Lochev was a defender on the Soviet side that made it to the quarterfinals of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Now a writer with Sovetsky Sport, Lochev wrote in the daily on July 3 that, at that time, getting out of the group was no big deal.
“Our soccer was at a higher level than it is now, so to get to the quarterfinals was no outstanding achievement,” Lochev recounted in a recent column.
The Soviet Union qualified for its first World Cup in 1958, repeating that feat over the next three successive tournaments. Its best result came in England in 1966, where the team finished fourth, largely due to the acrobatic heroics of goalkeeping legend Lev Yashin, who was between the pipes for the Soviet Union in three World Cup finals (in 1958, 1962, and 1966).
Lochev wrote that the 1966 team set the bar for the "bonuses" the Soviet players would get in 1970.
“No specific goal was set, but, I think, a good result in the group stage was worth $200; $400 for the quarterfinals; and $800 if we got to the semifinals. I don’t remember the exact amounts, but they were about that. They were the same amount the guys got at the World Cup in 1966,” Lochev wrote, adding that the players in 1966 cashed out their bonuses for new Volgas, the top-of-the-line for Soviet cars then.
Those sums obviously pale in comparison to what players are getting today.
Brazil, the most successful country ever at the World Cup -- having won the tournament in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002 -- is reportedly offering players nearly $1 million each if the team wins this year.
What Russia's players have been promised by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, if anything, has not been publicized, although rumors have circulated.
Back in 1970, despite a dearth of commercial opportunities, the Soviet players were able to pocket some money from shoe outfitters, recounted Lochev.
"All the soccer players on the national team signed a contract with [German footwear company] Puma. Each player received $100 at the signing. We got paid extra [from Puma] in Mexico, depending on the team results," Lochev said.
One of the players raised the hackles of a Puma representative when he trotted out onto the field in a competitor's cleats.
"I didn't play the game against Uruguay and sat in the stands with the Puma representative. And [Murtaz] Khurtsilava played in the game in Adidas cleats. He had agreed with them on his own," Lochev said. "When the Puma representative saw that, he got angry. 'What's he doing?!' As a result, Puma punished us. We got only half of what had been promised."
As for the quarterfinal game itself, the Soviet Union was matched against Uruguay. The game went to extra time and was "vicious," according to Lochev. It was also marred by controversy.
"At the beginning of the first extra time, Tolya [Anatoliy] Byshovets scored a goal. But the referee ruled it was offsides. There was no video review then, but it looked like a good goal," Lochev wrote in Sovetsky Sport.
Uruguay scored in the dying minutes of the game to win 1-0 on a goal the Soviet players said shouldn't have counted because the ball, in their view, had gone out before the goal.
"I don't remember whether anyone was angry with the team when we returned to Moscow. I myself wasn't so upset. I was young and thought there were other World Cups still ahead for me. But this was the only one," Lochev lamented.
Whether the current Russian side can upstage the 1970 Soviet team will be clear on July 7 when it takes on Croatia at Fisht Stadium in Sochi.