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Haller provides calm after the storm with heart-warming AFCON heroics
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Adam Drury
Sebastien Haller won the Africa Cup of Nations for Ivory Coast
Sebastien Haller won the Africa Cup of Nations for Ivory Coast

Sebastien Haller was the hero as Ivory Coast won the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.

Haller's superb improvised volley was the difference between the Elephants and Nigeria in Sunday's final, capping a remarkable couple of years during which he underwent treatment for testicular cancer before returning to the game.

The striker, 29, is arguably underrated on the European domestic circuit and now has his own piece of history on the international scene.

Heart-warming heroics

A return to football was at the bottom of the list of priorities when Haller was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2022.

But having signed for Borussia Dortmund from Ajax that month, he recovered from two surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy to make his debut just six months later.

And his first goal back on February 4, 2023 — World Cancer Day — prompted an outpouring of emotion from team-mates and supporters.

He told the BBC: "I was not scared.

"I was thinking about how I would say it to my family but I always knew I would make it."

Goalscoring prowess

Haller may not have shone in an ill-fated spell at West Ham between 2019-2021 but followers of his work on the continent will not be surprised by his inspiring AFCON displays. 

It was a record of 33 goals in 77 appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt that convinced the Hammers to spend a reported £40million to land the 6ft 3in forward.

He has subsequently bagged 47 strikes in 66 outings for Ajax and a further 11 for Dortmund in 36 games — the majority of which came in a purple patch towards the end of last term.

In that context, notching the winner in the semi-final and final of a major international tournament is a natural progression for a very solid goalscorer.

And it is form Dortmund will hope he can recreate in their push for Champions League qualification between now and the end of the season.

Improvised strike

The brilliance of Haller's winner against Nigeria should not be understated.

Brighton's Simon Adingra starred during the match and it was his industrious run and whipped cross that presented his team-mate with the opportunity.

But the way Ivory Coast's hero used his studs to divert the ball into the net was outstanding technique worthy of winning a prestigious prize.

And the joyous scenes it prompted inside the Alassane Ouattara Stadium were particularly meaningful to Haller. 

We said: "We dreamt of this moment so many times.

"They [the fans] deserve it. I really hope it does a lot of people good."

Calm after the storm

Ivory Coast's victory is all the more incredible considering their campaign was in such turmoil that boss Jean-Louis Gasset was sacked after a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea in the group stage. 

Haller had not featured due to injury until that point and his return to the line-up — bringing calm after the storm — was vital to their remarkable turnaround.

The country's legendary ex-defender Kolo Toure told the BBC: "I am so happy for Haller.

"He went through a tough time but he is a humble man. He is just someone who wants to help his team-mates.

"I am so happy he scored. It is fantastic for the country."


Africa Cup of NationsIvory CoastSebastien Haller
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