What you need to know:
- While downplaying his role, Haller acknowledges the team's transformation. "We had slip-ups, but maybe we're a different team now," he said. Born in France and representing them at youth levels, Haller opted for Ivory Coast in 2020.
- He admits the pressure associated with a cup final on home soil, but insists it’s nothing he can’t handle.
No player embodies Cote d’ Ivoire’s remarkable journey to the Africa Cup of Nations final quite like striker Sebastien Haller.
The 29-year-old, overcoming personal struggles and recent club disappointments, emerged as the hero in Wednesday's semi-final victory against DR Congo.
Haller, gracing billboards across Abidjan, symbolises the "Elephants" spirit. But his path to the AFCON final hasn't been smooth.
Haller's career was sidelined for six months in mid-2022 due to testicular cancer diagnosed shortly after joining Borussia Dortmund. He underwent two surgeries and four chemotherapy cycles, each requiring five days of hospitalisation.
His first competitive appearance for the club only came on January 22 last year against Augsburg. He shone in the Bundesliga run-in, scoring nine goals. But a missed penalty on the final day allowed Bayern Munich to snatch the title. Since then, his club form has dipped, with limited playing time and no goals since August.
Exactly a year after his return to the pitch, with his sights set on the AFCON, an ankle injury sidelined him. Despite all the frustrations, Haller has the chance to lead Ivory Coast to AFCON glory against Nigeria.
"It's going to be a tough, challenging game," Haller told journalists in Abidjan ahead of Sunday’s final against Nigeria. "We've come far, gone through a lot, and are more tightly knit."
While watching from the sidelines due to injury, Ivory Coast almost crashed out after a group-stage stumble. The France-born star, whose mother is Ivorian, returned, contributing from the bench and scoring in crucial penalty shootouts. Finally, in the semi-final, his volley sealed victory.
"Obviously, the past few years have been challenging for me and my family, so it’s beautiful to sit here in front of you speaking about an AFCON final,” he said.
From injury to hero
While downplaying his role, Haller acknowledges the team's transformation. "We had slip-ups, but maybe we're a different team now," he said. Born in France and representing them at youth levels, Haller opted for Ivory Coast in 2020.
He admits the pressure associated with a cup final on home soil, but insists it’s nothing he can’t handle.
“Not at all, I love it here. Pressure is part of the game; it helps us push even more.”
Sunday's final represents both personal and national redemption, a chance to rewrite his narrative and lift the trophy on home soil.