Enlarge image

Dortmund's Sébastian Haller touches the trophy after scoring Ivory Coast's victory in the Africa Cup of Nations final


Franck Fife / AFP

When a reporter hugged him while he was sobbing on the lawn, Sébastien Haller also had to wipe away a few tears. “We have dreamed of this moment so often,” said the professional soccer player 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.

The 29-year-old striker 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 in January 2023.

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.«

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.

"I'm having trouble understanding it all"

After Haller initially missed making it 2-1 for the Ivorians with a spectacular overhead kick (75th), he did better a little later: the 29-year-old artistically pushed a cross from Simon Adingra to the near post with the toe of his right foot Eck (81.).

"We believed in it until the end," said Haller: "My teammates pushed me to stay on the pitch as long as possible, and thanks to them I scored a goal." Due to an injury, Haller missed the entire group phase. According to him, his ankle "still hasn't completely healed, but it was fine for today."

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 finally reached the knockout phase - but without their coach Jean-Louis Gasset, from whom they parted ways with much fanfare.

His previous assistant and U23 coach Emerse Faé took over - especially because preferred candidate and former national coach Hervé Renard, who now coaches the French footballers, was not available quickly. But it was to be Faé's hour, he led the "Eléphants" to an exciting triumph after a penalty shootout in the round of 16 against defending champions and tournament favorites Senegal. "I'm having trouble understanding it all," he said after the final.