By 90Min
May 11, 2018

USA '94. A tournament remembered for Roberto Baggio's World Cup final penalty miss, a troubled Diego Maradona's in-your-face camera celebrations, and when Diana Ross literally moved the sporting goalposts in the opening ceremony at Soldier Field in Chicago.

There were also lesser more understated stories from that American summer, including the capture of the tournament's Golden Boot by Russia's Oleg Salenko - tied on six goals with Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov.

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Salenko's achievement was made all the more remarkable given the fact Russia failed to progress from the group stages of the competition, from a pool containing Cameroon yes, but also eventual winners Brazil and third-placed finishers Sweden.

A player who lined up for Dynamo Kyiv, Valencia and Rangers but was forced to retire in his early thirties because of health issues, Salenko's story and only two year senior international career is one of the more incredible in World Cup folklore, and his name still stands in history today - even if his name is not a household one.

Born in 1969 in the former Soviet Union city of Leningrad in Russia - now St. Petersburg - Salenko played for native Zenit Leningrad before a move to the Ukrainian capital and Kiev two years before Italia '90, where he scored 28 times in 91 appearances - and briefly saw the player switch international allegiances with their geographical neighbours.

Switching to former La Liga side Logrones in La Rioja in the 12-month period building up to USA '94, Salenko netted 23 times in Spain that season finishing with 16 goals - ironically tied with Barcelona's Stoichkov again - a tally that saw the Russian finish seventh in the battle for the Pichichi.

Helping his country reach the World Cup for the first time competing as Russia after the Soviet Union was reformed, Salenko played twice in qualification for the national team and heard the Russian national anthem blast out before playing the Samba Boys as his side went down to a 2-0 loss in Stanford, California via goals from Romario and Rai.

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A 3-1 defeat to Sweden then saw Russia's hopes of a last-16 berth ended in the shadow of Detroit at the Pontiac Silverdome, however, Salenko's 4th-minute spot-kick had given his countrymen the lead initially and was a sign of things to come.

With Russia already eliminated and having lost at the Stanford Stadium eight days prior also, Salenko then almost single-handedly tore up the footballing manual as the number nine went on a five-goal demolition job of Cameroon.

Giving Pavel Sadryin's men the lead in the 15th minute, Salenko netted twice in a three minute before half time and sealed his hat trick from the penalty spot to catapult the then 25-year-old up the scoring charts of the tournament.

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With the game over as a contest, Salenko waited until the 72nd minute to add his fourth, before three minutes later was sent through on goal and chip past Cameroonian 'keeper Jacques Songo'o to add his fifth. Substitute Dmitri Radchenko made in six either side of Roger Mila's consolation a mere minute after the break to complete the rout, as both sides packed their bag for the flight home.

For Salenko however, his having taken his goal tally for the summer to a remarkable five, the Russia went on to clinch the Golden Boot with Stoichkov after the latter failed to score during  Bulgaria's 4-0 hammering at the hands of Sweden in the third place play-off, well after he arrived back on terrafirma in the mother land. 

Finishing ahead of Romario, Baggio, Swede Kennet Andersson and West Germany's Jurgen Klinsmann that summer, Salenko's feat still stands today as him the being the only man in World Cup history to have scored five goals in a game, while also being the only player to finish top scorer after his country failed to get out of the group stages.

Salenko stands in the World Cup annuls amongst illustrious company. Thierry Henry, Bebeto, Dennis Bergkamp and Mario Kempes to name but four all sit with six goals under their respective tournament belts. However, rather to underline his unorthodox international career, Salenko's quintet against the Africans at USA '94 were his final international goals.


A move to Spanish giants Los Che followed post-tournament before a stint in Glasgow with Rangers, but the Russian suffered from health issues caused by a number of injuries and was forced to hang up his boots prematurely at 31 years of age. 

Salenko may have stayed in the spot in his homeland due to his managerial role with the Ukrainian beach soccer team in 2003, but for one summer in 1994, Salenko was king of the footballing world. 

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