Ivory Coast’s Haller wants ‘no regrets’ in Nigeria AFCON final
'We have been lucky enough to get a second chance so we need to make sure we leave with no regrets,' said the Ivorian striker.
Sebastien Haller celebrates scoring the winner against DR Congo in the semifinals. Picture: Sia KAMBOU / AFP
Ivory Coast star Sebastien Haller has urged his team to “leave with no regrets” as they attempt to complete the most remarkable of major tournament comebacks in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final on home soil against Nigeria.
The Elephants are the first host country to reach the AFCON final since Egypt in 2006, and yet they came within a whisker of exiting the competition in the group stage after a stunning 4-0 defeat by Equatorial Guinea on January 22.
“We have made a spectacular recovery. We all went through a difficult time after the defeat against Equatorial Guinea,” Borussia Dortmund striker Haller told reporters in Abidjan on Saturday.
“We don’t have much to lose now, as long as we give our maximum. We have been lucky enough to get a second chance so we need to make sure we leave with no regrets.”
The Equatorial Guinea loss was the Ivorians’ heaviest ever at home, and they only qualified for the knockout phase as one of the best third-placed teams after other results went in their favour.
“What has happened has really brought us all closer together, because we know how close we came to this ending in a nightmare,” added Haller.
They beat holders Senegal on penalties in the last 16 and then ousted Mali in dramatic fashion in extra time in the quarter-finals, before a solitary Haller goal secured a 1-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last four.
It was a special moment for Haller, who in the last year has overcome testicular cancer and the agony of missing out on the German Bundesliga title with Dortmund on the final day of last season.
He then missed the start of the AFCON due to injury, only making his first start of the tournament in the semi-final.
“The last year has been quite challenging for myself, my family, everyone. I am just trying to enjoy and take things step by step. I just hope I will enjoy tomorrow as well,” he added.
– ‘Flawless’ Super Eagles –
The match at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium is a repeat of the clash between the sides in their second group outing, when Nigeria –- who had been held by Equatorial Guinea in their first match — won 1-0 thanks to a William Troost-Ekong penalty.
The Ivorians have changed coach since, with Jean-Louis Gasset leaving after their poor first-round performances and former player Emerse Fae taking over.
“We dreamt of being in the final, but we have just been going one game at a time because we know how far we have had to come to get to this point,” said Fae.
“Nigeria have had a flawless run but they have got better as they have gone along. After the draw with Equatorial Guinea they innovated and changed their system, and they have become more and more solid defensively and dangerous in attack.”
Meanwhile Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro is confident his team will again rise to the occasion of playing against the host nation.
“We all prefer to play in a full stadium with a good atmosphere, but we just need to concentrate on what we have to do on the pitch,” he said.
Peseiro admitted that left wing-back Zaidu Sanusi remained a fitness doubt after sitting out the semi-final against South Africa.
“Zaidu did conditioning training yesterday, and today we are going to check if he can play or not,” Peseiro said of the Porto player on the eve of the final.