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In Focus: Heroic Haller back among the goals after cancer battle
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Cian Cheesbrough
Sebastien Haller scored his first goal since returning from cancer treatment against Freiburg
Sebastien Haller scored his first goal since returning from cancer treatment against Freiburg

Borussia Dortmund scored five goals against Freiberg last Saturday but one of them was celebrated significantly more than the others.

Sebastien Haller sparked elation at Signal Iduna Park when he netted BVB’s third in the 5-1 Bundesliga win — his first goal for the club after returning from cancer treatment.

Ahead of Dortmund’s DFB-Pokal last-16 tie at Bochum tonight, we turn the spotlight on their 28-year-old striker.

Road to recovery

Haller’s full Dortmund debut was a long time coming, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly after signing from Ajax last July.

The Ivory Coast international underwent two surgeries and chemotherapy in the following months as he set about beating the disease.

After five months of treatment, he was given the green light to join up with his team-mates upon their return to training at the start of January following the World Cup and Christmas break.

The forward’s first involvement came in a friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf, before he scored a hat-trick versus Basel.

On January 22 — six months after his diagnosis — he finally made his competitive debut from the bench against Augsburg, playing 28 minutes in a 4-3 win.

Dream moment

Subsequent outings against Mainz and Bayer Leverkusen followed but it was in his fourth game that his magical moment finally came.

It was perhaps written in the stars that his 51st-minute header to make it 3-1 coincidentally fell on World Cancer Day.

After the emotional landmark in front of Dortmund’s Yellow Wall, Haller revealed his delight at being able to celebrate scoring a goal once again.

He said: "You only want to score another goal, to have that feeling again. It’s the best feeling.

"You’re flying. You’re on a cloud. The whole stadium is on fire. Your team-mates, the staff, everyone is as one. It’s a big boost. There’s still a long way to go but we will walk down that path.

"I hope that I made some people happy.

"I had in my mind to score, here in this atmosphere, in this place, with this power. It was meant to be."

Proven goalscorer

It is easy to forget Haller was in the best goalscoring form of his career prior to his switch to the Bundesliga giants.

Dortmund landed the 15-cap international after he hit 34 goals in 43 appearances in all competitions for Ajax in 2021-22, finishing as top scorer in the Eredivisie with 21 strikes.

His 11 Champions League goals last term were bettered only by Karim Benzema (15) and Robert Lewandowski (13) — made all the more impressive considering the Amsterdam outfit exited the competition at the last-16 stage.

And BVB boss Edin Terzic is delighted to have his No9 back in the fold.

The German coach, 40, said: "We were looking for this moment when we signed him in the summer.

"We were hoping he'd score in his first game in the summer, but after what happened, all he's been through, it's a very special moment for him. 

"And a very important goal for us — you can feel it. Hopefully he can continue like this."

Sebastien Haller was one of the Champions League's best strikers last season
Sebastien Haller was one of the Champions League's best strikers last season

Staying grounded

And while that special moment will live long in the memory, Haller knows there is still a long road ahead to get back to the peak of his powers.

He was substituted with half an hour to go against Freiburg and completing a full 90 minutes still looks some way off.

On his ongoing journey, the marksman said: "It's still difficult, but it's only with minutes that I can be fully fit. 

"Thanks to the staff and to everyone for helping me perform because of course it's not easy — my body's changed.

"There are a few things that are not the same, so I need to adapt every day to the new pain, the new everything. I just want to get the most minutes I can get and take it day by day.

"A lot of things are quite different, but the most important thing is to work well and work hard, but never go over the limit because I need some time again to recover from the second operation, that's normal. 

"I can do everything, but I need time. This is what I'm training to do. It's a hard job, but it's nothing compared to the last few months. It's all been worth it to score this goal. I'm happy."

If his defiant journey back to football pitch is anything to go by, it would be no surprise to see Haller back at the top of his game in no time at all.


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