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Unbeaten Yugoslavia do the double on Soviet Union in 1978, claim second world title

MIES (Switzerland) - Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were among the elite in international basketball before the FIBA Basketball World Cup tipped off in 1978 in the Philippines.

Each had won a string of championships or at least reached the podium at major events in the years preceding the event in Manila.

Yugoslavia, in one of FIBA's most powerful and influential iconic moments, underlined their status as one of the best national teams by marching to the title for the second time in their history.

The team from the Balkans lifted the World Cup Trophy in 1970  and also claimed titles at the FIBA EuroBasket in 1973, 1975 and 1977, while the Soviet Union had famously defeated the USA in the Gold Medal Game of the Munich Olympics and two years later captured the world title in Puerto Rico.

Fans watched great players like Puerto Rico's high-flying Ruben Rodriguez at the World Cup in Manila

With former winners USA (1954) and Brazil (1959, 1963) in the tournament field and a host of other countries that had been raising eyebrows, the 1978 World Cup - called the FIBA World Championship at the time - was expected to be a special tournament and it lived up to the hype. 

The 1978 World Cup had a new format. The defending champions and the hosts once again skipped the opening round but this time went into a Semi-Final Round, and a Final Round followed after that.

So the Soviets, who'd won the tournament four years before in Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, went straight to the Semi-Final Round.

The Soviet Union center Vladimir Tkatchenko towered above the Philippines in the Final Round

The other 12 teams were drawn into three Preliminary Round pools.

In Group A, Yugoslavia (3-0) and Canada (2-1) ended up advancing to the Semi-Final Round while South Korea (1-2) and Senegal (0-3) dropped into the Classification Round.

In Group B, Brazil (3-0) and Italy (2-1) progressed, and Puerto Rico  (1-2) and China (0-3) fell into the Classification Round. In Group C, the USA (3-0) and Australia (2-1) moved into the Semi-Final Round and Czechoslovakia (1-2) and Dominican Republic (0-3) went into the Classification Round.

The games that effectively decided first place in Groups B and C were thrillers. Brazil scraped a 88-84 win over Italy and the USA edged an emerging Australia, 77-75.

 Oscar Schmidt, with both hands on the ball, was at the start of his legendary career with Brazil

Group C had other riveting games, too, including two involving the Boomers. After losing the nail-biter against the USA, Australia won 71–68 over Czechoslovakia and 74–72 over the Dominicans. Czechoslovakia also edged the Dominicans in their encounter, 82-81.

In the Semi-Final Round, all the teams squared off against each other. The aim was to finish first or second to earn a spot in the winner-take-all Final. The teams that came in third and fourth would contest a Third-Place Game in the Final Round, the teams that were fifth and sixth would battle in a fifth-place game and the seventh-and eighth-placed teams would square off for seventh. 

Yugoslavia beat the USA in their Semi-Final Round matchup, 100-93

When Yugoslavia won in Ljubljana in 1970, Kresimir Cosic led the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game. At the 1974 World Cup, Yugoslavia proved they were still among the best by winning their game in the Final Round against eventual champions Soviet Union. After the Soviets, Yugoslavia and USA all ended up with 6-1 records in the Final Round, the Soviets were crowned champions using a tie-breaking formula with Yugoslavia second and the USA third. 

Yugoslavia had a different look in the Philippines, especially with the dazzling Drazen Dalipagic making big plays on his way to being named tournament MVP, and with legendary coach Aleksandar "Aca" Nikolic calling the shots.

They won their seven games in the Semi-Final Round. That set up a title decider in the Final Round against the Soviets, who had gone 6-1 in the Semi-Final Round.

Ratko Radovanovic, a member of that Yugoslavia team, said in the documentary, The History of the FIBA Basketball World Cup: "I was lucky enough to play with players that I had always admired, such as Cosic, (Dragan) Kicanovic and (Drazen) Dalipagic.

"I was only 22 at the time and it was just the greatest experience."

Radovanovic was a great player himself. He was Yugoslavia's third-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game.

Yugoslavia handed the Soviet Union their only defeat in the Semi-Final Round, 105–92, but the title game was much closer.

This time Yugoslavia prevailed, 82-81. Dalipagic had a game-high 21 points.

Yugoslavia, represented by Cosic, were top of the podium and the USSR, who had Sergei Belov, were second

Yugoslavia was officially the best team in the world, yet something that was plain to see for everyone was that the competition was getting stronger. In the Semi-Final Round, Yugoslavia had to survive a couple of close calls. They narrowly beat a Brazil team that had a young Oscar Schmidt making his World Cup bow, 91-87, and also edged Australia, 105-101.

The team held its nerve and captured the world title for the second time.

"We were a very strong squad," Radovanovic said. "We never thought for a moment that we could be beaten by anyone."