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AFCON Côte d’Ivoire: Why Sebastien Haller preferred the Elephants to France

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Wednesday, 12 January 2022 15:45

Sebastien Haller joined the Ivorian national team in November 2020

Sebastien Haller, the Franco-Ivorian striker from Ajax Amsterdam was eligible for selection for the French national team. But in 2020, he has chosen to wear the Ivorian jersey.

Côte d’Ivoire will not participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after also missing the previous edition in Russia.

The defeat they suffered in Douala on 16 November against Cameroon (0-1) in the second round of qualifying proved fatal for the Elephants, who are now hoping for success at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament, which is currently taking place in Cameroon, and the 2023 edition, which Côte d’Ivoire will host, will change their fortunes.

The Ivorian national team is approaching these two priority objectives with one of the most impressive squads in Africa, joined in November 2020 by Sebastien Haller (8 caps, 3 goals).

A former Blue

The 27-year-old had already been a French international player several times at the youth level.

But Patrice Beaumelle, the French coach of the 1992 and 2015 African champions, succeeded in convincing the player who was then under contract at West Ham United (England): “I had proposed to him in 2020 to play for his mother’s country of origin. He was still eligible for selection for the French team. He had worn the shirt of Les Bleus, notably with the U-21s. I asked him to think about it. That’s what he did and he accepted. He didn’t make a choice by default.”

On 20 November 2020, for his first selection, Haller scored the second goal for Côte d’Ivoire against Madagascar (2-1) in Abidjan, in the qualifiers for the 2021 CAN. “Sébastien has easily taken his place in the team. He is a very professional boy, with whom it is easy to work, and his arrival is really an important contribution to the team,” continues Patrice Beaumelle.

Born in Ris-Orangis, in the Paris suburbs, Sebastien Haller was trained at AJ Auxerre, where he signed his first professional contract.

Vincent Cabin, the Burgundy club’s sporting director, expected the striker to become a French international. “As he had played for all the categories and had shone with the French Espoirs (the youth team, with 13 goals in 20 appearances), I think he had ambitions to play for the senior side. He was attached to the blue shirt, but I think he understood that there was strong competition in the Blues, particularly with the presence of Olivier Giroud, and that if he wanted to become an international and compete at a high level, Côte d’Ivoire could offer him that opportunity.”

Top scorer in the Champions League

In 2015, the striker, lacking playing time at Auxerre, was loaned to FC Utrecht in the Netherlands. He eventually stayed there for more than two and a half years, scoring 51 goals in 97 games. At the time, Sébastien Haller made little reference to the Ivorian national team.

However, one of his maternal uncles, Narcisse Tea Kuyo, the current president of the prestigious club Africa Sports in Abidjan, played for them in the 1980s. “He was looking to play for the French team, which was quite logical, as he was in the Espoirs at the time,” recalls Edouard Duplan, who has been playing in the Netherlands since 2006 and is also from Essonne.

“Before he arrived, I was asked to talk to him about the club and the city. We quickly got on well,” he said. He was a very good teammate, very professional, very ambitious. It was nice to be around him on a daily basis, he is a boy who likes to joke around. He is steeped in French and Ivorian culture. I had met his mother in Utrecht on several occasions. You could tell that he valued family, which I think is very important in Africa.

Haller only visited his mother’s home country twice during his childhood. But the Ivorian national team matches have allowed the current Ajax Amsterdam striker, who returned to the Netherlands after a golden patch at Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), where he scored 33 goals between 2017 and 2019, and a less successful one at West Ham (14 goals from June 2019 to January 2021), to make more frequent trips to Abidjan.

In the Elephants’ ranks, Duplan “hopes that he will have the same efficiency as with Ajax”. Since the start of the season, Haller has scored 12 times in the Dutch league and is the current top scorer in the Champions League (10 goals).

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