When a reporter hugged him while he was sobbing on the lawn, Sébastien Haller also shed a few tears. “We have dreamed of this moment so often,” said the professional footballer from Borussia Dortmund on Sunday evening, shortly after he scored the decisive 2-1 (0-1) for Ivory Coast in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations against Nigeria. The third title after 1992 and 2015 for this year’s host country is also a very special one for Haller.
“Haller-lujah!” wrote England’s football legend Gary Lineker on X, formerly Twitter. Many observers recalled the special story of the 29-year-old striker, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the summer of 2022, shortly after his move from Ajax Amsterdam to Dortmund. After several months of treatment, Haller returned to the field.
His goals and assists enabled BVB to make a splendid comeback in the second half of last season. But when the championship seemed almost perfect, the striker’s nerves failed him. His missed penalty on matchday 34 against Mainz (2-2) contributed to the missed title – and at the same time initiated Haller’s sporting decline in Dortmund. So far this season he has only started four Bundesliga games and has not scored any goals in a total of eleven appearances.
The lost championship title caused him more pain than the cancer diagnosis, he told “Sport Bild” in the fall. “Unsuccessful situations or missed opportunities wear on you. You think about what you could have done better. But especially during my illness, I also learned to stop letting negative things get to me so much.”
Despite BVB’s sporting misery, Haller impressed in the crucial moments of the Africa Cup. He was only allowed to start in the semi-final against the Democratic Republic of Congo (1-0) and in the final, and he scored the decisive goal twice.
His story fits in with the crazy tournament run of the hosts, who were almost eliminated after a disastrous 4-0 defeat in the preliminary round against Equatorial Guinea. As third in the group, the Ivorians sneaked into the knockout phase – but without their coach Jean-Louis Gasset, from whom they parted ways with much fanfare.
Assistant Emerse Faé took over – especially because preferred candidate and former national coach Hervé Renard was not available quickly. “I would have loved it, but fate decided otherwise,” said Renard, who now coaches the French footballers, in an interview with the TV channel Canal Plus.
So fate drove Faé forward, who stated after the deserved final win against Nigeria: “It was an extraordinary tournament.” For him, for the Ivory Coast – and especially for Sébastien Haller.