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The Xtra Historic Moment: A Record-Breaking World Cup Performance by Oleg Salenko

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Prince Jean

Jun 24, 2024

The World Cup Throwback

Every Day, XtrAfrica highlights a World Cup record. To day's spotlight is on Oleg Salenko, who outshone legends in California during the 1994 tournament. Credit:sputnik

Oleg Salenko's prediction to his roommate in a California hotel seemed outlandish: "I had a dream," he excitedly shared.

"I'm going to score lots of goals, we're going to thrash Cameroon, and we're going to reach the final."

His long-time friend Dmitri Radchenko thought he "needed admitting to a mental asylum."

Heading into 1994, Salenko had just two caps, began the FIFA World Cup™ on the bench, and would never play international football again. Russia needed a significant win against Cameroon, a team that nearly reached the Italia '90 semi-finals, to advance from Group B. Despite the odds, two of Salenko's premonitions materialized.

Salenko's performance at Stanford Stadium was historic. By the 75th minute, he had scored five goals, all with his right boot, leading Russia to a 6-1 victory. This extraordinary feat broke the record for most goals in a World Cup game, previously held by Ernst Wilimowski, Ademir de Menezes, Sandor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, Eusebio, and Emilio Butragueno.

“I didn’t know it was a record at the time,”

Salenko recalled.

“I heard something over the loudspeaker, but I was focused on winning by as many goals as possible. It was in English, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. There are records for everything. I couldn’t have imagined setting one for the most goals in a World Cup game.”

Post-match, Salenko and Radchenko were taken for doping tests. The game kicked off at 1 PM in 40°C heat, leaving them dehydrated and waiting an hour-and-a-half to provide urine samples.

“I found out hours later about the prestigious record. It was amazing, but at the time, I was anxious to see if we would advance.”

Despite the resounding victory, Russia's hopes for the knockout phase were dashed as Saudi Arabia stunned Belgium, Bulgaria upset Argentina, and Nigeria defeated Greece. The Eastern Europeans were out.

“It was only afterwards that I appreciated the record,”

Salenko reflected.

“You look at those great strikers who scored four goals in a World Cup game. Legends like Pele, Gerd Muller, and Paolo Rossi didn’t even manage that. Scoring five in a game is something I’m very proud of. That’s the beauty of the World Cup – the whole world is watching. If you do something spectacular, you’ll be remembered forever. People still come up to me from all over the world to talk about it.”

Salenko’s final goal against Jacques Songo'o brought his total to six at USA ’94. He was Russia’s sole scorer in a 3-1 defeat to Sweden, led by Martin Dahlin. Ultimately, Hristo Stoichkov matched Salenko's six goals, leading to them sharing the adidas Golden Boot. Remarkably, Salenko is the only player to win the Golden Boot without playing in the knockout rounds.

“It was an honour to share the Golden Boot with such a great player. We’ve met several times. He’d joke that I should be grateful he didn’t score one more, and I’d joke that he should be grateful I passed rather than scored against Cameroon!”

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