Sebastien Haller, the cancer survivor who became Ivory Coast’s Africa Cup of Nations hero
A continental champion, a national hero.
Sebastien Haller’s right boot got the vital flick at the perfect time and ten minutes later, Ivory Coast had completed the most remarkable and improbable of tournament turnarounds, winning the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil after beating Nigeria 2-1.
It marked the most momentous on-pitch moment of the 29-year-old striker’s career thus far and took him to double figures in international goals. And yet, Haller’s late winner, his moment of African immortality, might never have happened at all.
And not for the most obvious reason, the one you’d immediately expect.
In November 2016, a full four years before making his senior international debut for Ivory Coast, Haller hit a hat-trick in an U21 fixture. Nothing too unusual there for a talented attacker on the up - except, this was against Ivory Coast, while still playing for France and progressing through the youth teams.
For a player whose celebrations are typically fairly understated - usually a calm demeanour, perhaps arms outstretched - those two goals marked rare moments when the mask slipped a little more: the hat-trick strike in that U21 game of yesteryear prompted a bit of a smile and a fist pump; the winner in Abidjan to defeat the Super Eagles yielded a beating of his own chest as he jogged down the byline.
And that pair are joined by another goal celebrated in unusually emphatic style: his first Borussia Dortmund goal in February 2023, one which was perhaps as much relief and release as anything else - for it came on World Cancer Day just a few weeks after being given the all-clear, following a six-month battle against testicular cancer.
Therein lies the real story of Haller’s own personal comeback trail, the biggest sliding