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Sebastien Haller, Ivory Coast hero and symbol of resilience

Sebastien Haller, Ivory Coast hero and symbol of resilience

After his injury at the beginning of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations, Sebastien Haller gained momentum throughout the tournament, which he ended by scoring the winning goal for Ivory Coast in the final, Sunday, against Nigeria (2-1). Like the elephants, his journey is one of rebirth, becoming a hero to an entire country after two years marked by illness and injury.

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Two-time African Cup of Nations champion, and two-time decisive scorer! The Ivorians can now erect a statue of Sebastien Haller, the scorer of the goal that Ivory Coast missed at the start of the tournament.

She made her debut on Wednesday 7 February in the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final against DR Congo, with striker Sebastien Haller scoring the winning goal. Above all, he was constantly putting pressure on the Congolese defense as the Elephants finally produced a controlled game.

Again in the final against Nigeria: the Ivorians, who always love excitement, equalized after falling behind. Haller then gave them the win, throwing himself like a hungry man onto Adingra's cross to turn the ball into the net.

Read alsoIvory Coast wins the African Cup of Nations, defeating Nigeria in the final

Already after the semi-finals, Haller said he felt relieved to have “finally made his move.” He promised to do everything he could to avoid further concerns for fans: “I spent the start of the competition in the stands. I know how frustrating it is. I will do everything to avoid that.” Promise fulfilled!

Sebastien Haller sends Ivory Coast to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations
Sebastien Haller sends Ivory Coast to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations © France 24

“I told myself that I had not done it all in vain,” explains Sébastien Haller, speaking about the journey and challenges he has overcome over the past two years, after testicular cancer and a bad ankle injury just before the Africa Cup of Nations. The injury, as he admitted after the match, has not yet been treated… In theory, he didn't have to return to the field before this final.

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“Haller is like Ivory Coast. He has come a long way,” explained Emmanuel Eboue, a former international who reached the final of the 2006 tournament with the Elephants, just before the final. “Côte d'Ivoire is proud to see him finally smiling.”

Read alsoAfrica Cup of Nations 2024: A three-time miracle, Ivory Coast is no longer afraid of anything

From Auxerre to Dortmund via Ajax

Sébastien Haller was born to an Ivorian mother and a French father in Reims-Oranges, Paris region. He started playing football at the age of nine and quickly appeared on the radar of AJ Auxerre, which he joined at the age of thirteen.

At the prestigious training club, the striker impressed and was quickly promoted. He quickly racked up the goals among the Under-15s, even finishing the season with 50 goals in 19 matches. At 16 years old, he was already playing for the club's reserves in the CFA. Launched into the pros in November 2013, he had the difficult task of carrying the weight of Auxerre's attack, despite his young age.

The linear progression ends there. If his finishing qualities and aerial game were anything to go by, he would be criticized for a kind of indifference. Due to his lack of playing time, he was loaned out to the Netherlands, to Utrecht, with an option to buy. His football career took off there and he made a series of record signings: Eintracht Frankfurt, West Ham, then Ajax Amsterdam where he revealed himself to the world, especially in the Champions League. He scored 10 goals in the group stage alone as he discovered the competition.

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Cancer and doubts

After such a promising season at Ajax Amsterdam, Sebastien Haller moved to Borussia Dortmund. He arrived to great fanfare but a diagnosis of testicular cancer forced him to withdraw from the field in July 2022 to receive treatment. His career was put on hold for several months.

Although he returned to the field six months later, he never regained his previous level, and has now been attacking Dortmund since the start of the season. Quite the opposite of a selection that gives him a breath of fresh air: in six matches since his cancer diagnosis, he has scored four goals. It stands to reason that he was eagerly awaiting the CAN. However, a very bad injury in December in Mainz hurt his participation in the Africa Cup.

“I wanted to make my contribution”

“Coach Jean-Louis Gasset has always wondered about signing him, just as he did with Simon Adingra [également blessé au début de la compétition, NLDR]. “In the end, they would have brought us a lot,” explains Emers Faye, the Frenchman’s successor in command of the Elephants. “They are weapons of mass destruction.”

Sebastien Haller does not hide it, he had doubts for a long time: “I was planning to arrive in Ivory Coast during the holiday before the Africa Cup of Nations to prepare myself as best as possible. Coming with a cast was not easy. I doubted,” he admitted. “But I have family, friends and a country that supports me. They made me realize that I matter. It helped me endure the hours of care since December 21. I wanted to do my part in the building.”

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Given his personal journey, when he talks about resilience, the message is even stronger: “We all dreamed of this! We hoped to get there,” he describes after the final over the BeIN Sports microphone. “Once again, the game was not smooth (…) We believed in it until the end, and my teammates pushed me to stay on the field as long as possible. If I scored today, it was thanks to them. I had to set an example… and bring the trophy home!” mission accomplished.

*This updated article is taken from the photo posted before the final