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1978 Under-21 EURO: Halilhodžić hat-trick heroics

Vahid Halilhodžić's hat-trick helped Yugoslavia to a 5-4 aggregate win in the inaugural Under-21 EURO final.

Vahid Halilhodžić (right) shone for Yugoslavia with four goals in the final
Vahid Halilhodžić (right) shone for Yugoslavia with four goals in the final Getty Images

East Germany 0-1 Yugoslavia
(Halilhodžić 54)
Yugoslavia 4-4 East Germany
(Halilhodžić 9 15 36, Srečko 51; Kotte 2, Kühn 10 31, Riediger 14)
(agg: 5-4 to Yugoslavia)

Vahid Halilhodžić has much to be proud of as both player and coach, but in a long and illustrious career, he considers one of his earliest matches his greatest. Halilhodžić scored a first-half hat-trick in the second leg of the 1978 UEFA European Under-21 final against East Germany to lead Yugoslavia to a 5-4 aggregate victory. "I will never forget those three goals," he said. Halilhodžić had set Yugoslavia on the road to victory two weeks previously with the only goal of a tight first leg in Halle. But defence gave way to attack in Mostar as the two sides played out a thrilling 4-4 draw. It was a fitting finale to the first UEFA Under-21 Championship.

Central and Eastern Europe dominated the fleeting European Under-23 Championship, as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the USSR all claimed trophies, and the switch to a new format failed to awaken the western half of the continent. Twenty-four teams took part in the inaugural Under-21 event. They were split into eight groups of three with the winners of each section advancing to the quarter-finals. Yugoslavia went through at the expense of Spain and Romania and were drawn against Hungary in the last eight. They lost the home leg 1-0 in Maribor, but rallied 2-0 in Bekescsaba to take their place in the final four. There they faced a strong England side that had knocked out Italy in the quarter-finals and they provided another stern test. Ivan Toplak's team this time made home advantage count, winning 2-1 in Novi Sad, before drawing 1-1 in Manchester to reach the final 3-2 on aggregate.


There they came up against an East Germany side who had breezed through Group 3 with three wins and a draw against Turkey and Austria. Czechoslovakia were their opponents in the quarter-finals and East Germany looked to be on the way out after losing the away leg 3-1. A stirring recovery in Halle two weeks later, however, produced a 5-2 win which took them through 6-5 on aggregate. Bulgaria, who had squeezed past Denmark in the quarter-finals were up next, but they were defeated 2-1 and 3-1 by an East German side that had now found its stride. Until Yugoslavia came to town that is.

The first leg of the final in Halle on 17 May 1978 was dominated by defence, but shortly after the restart Halilhodžić took one of the few chances that came Yugoslavia's way and that proved enough for victory. A crowd of 25,000 filled the stands of the Pod Bijelim Bregom stadium in Mostar for the second leg, to see the budding talents of Zlatko Krmpotić, Nenad Stojković and hometown boy Blaž Slišković, but again it was Halilhodžić that shone brightest. He scored three times in the first half, incredibly though, East Germany still went into the break 4-3 in front. Bogdan Srečko drew Yugoslavia level in the second half and a thrilling match ended 4-4, giving Toplak's side the trophy 5-4 on aggregate and man-of-the-match Halilhodžić the reward he deserved.