Not many in the world of football are capable of netting goals just for fun at a stage as big as the World Cup. But former Russian forward Oleg Salenko managed to score five in a single match against Cameroon at the 1994 edition in the United States of America to create a World Cup record.
Russia had suffered consecutive defeats in their opening two games against Brazil and Sweden (2-0 and 3-1). Their chances to qualify for the knockout stages looked slim ahead of the Cameroon fixture. But, the format of the tournament was such that there was a glimmer of hope for the third-placed team to proceed further.
Having already impressed against Sweden in the previous match, Salenko came out all guns blazing to give Russia a chance to fight for a place in the next round. He broke the deadlock in the 16th minute with a powerful strike through the legs of goalkeeper Jacques Songo'o, who had replaced the legendary shot-stopper Joseph-Antoine Bell.
Cameroon chased the game after trailing but left their midfield exposed, allowing Russia to break with ease. Salenko took advantage of a slew of errors by the opposition defence to double his tally. The Russian No 9 completed his hat-trick at the stroke of half-time from the penalty spot after a foul on teammate Ilya Tsymbalar.
Incidentally, Salenko wasn't the only player to create a World Cup record. At the start of the second half, 42-year-old substitute Roger Milla managed to reduce the deficit by one, thus becoming the oldest goalscorer in the history of the tournament.
But that night the headlines were only to be reserved for one man. Salenko quickly added his fourth by slotting home Omari Tetradze’s cutback. With that goal, he put himself on par with footballing legends such as Leonidas, Sandor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, Eusebio among others. Just three minutes later, Salenko chipped the ball over Songo’o to make it 5-1.
What's interesting is that amid the goal rush, Salenko did not realise he had broken a tournament record. The big screen flashed: 'World Cup record' but Salenko was focused only on ripping the Cameroonian defence to shreds. "I didn’t think about the record during the match. They said something over the speaker system, but you’re focused on the game and can’t hear in detail, plus it was also in English," he told FIFA.com. Not only did he score five, he even assisted his strike partner Dmitri Radchenko to take Russia's tally to six.
Unfortunately, Russia were knocked out in the first round of the competition and Salenko shared the tournament’s Golden Boot honour with Hristo Stoichkov.
Despite a career marred by injuries, Salenko was a player to watch out in his teens. In 1986, aged just 16, he made his debut for local club Zenit Leningrad (Zenit St Petersburg) by coming off the bench and scoring the winner in a 4-3 victory over Dynamo Moscow, becoming an instant hero for the fans. He made the headlines after making a move to Dynamo Kyiv as he was the first player to be transferred in the Soviet Union where money was officially exchanged between the two clubs.
The half Russian, half Ukranian striker hung up his boots in 2001, after a short spell at Pogon Szczecin. The former Kyiv, Valencia and Rangers frontman was forced to retire in his early thirties because of health issues, however, Salenko's story and only a two-year senior international career is one of the most incredible stories till date.
To read about other FIFA World Cup moments, click here.
Updated Date: May 20, 2018 16:42:46 IST