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bundesliga

Sebastien Haller: Borussia Dortmund striker makes debut after winning testicular cancer battle

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Sebastien Haller has called the emotional welcome from Dortmund fans "the best thing I could get" after making his long-awaited competitive debut for his new club following a six-month battle against testicular cancer.

Haller, 28, was given the diagnosis shortly after signing for Dortmund in July 2022 on the back of a 34-goal campaign with Ajax. After feeling unwell during BVB's pre-season tour of Switzerland, he underwent tests that revealed a malignant tumour.

The 6'3" striker underwent two surgeries and chemotherapy in the ensuing months, before getting the green light to link back up with his teammates on their return to training on 2 January 2023.

"I feel good," he told media at Dortmund's winter training camp in Marbella, Spain, on 9 January. "Of course, it's been a tough six months. Obviously, I'm just happy to be here with the guys, to be able to train. So, yeah, it was not easy - but it was worth it. It's my job, it's also the thing I love the most - to play football - so I had to stay fit."

Watch: Haller in action as Dortmund defeat Düsseldorf

And the very next day we finally got to see Haller in a Dortmund shirt as he came on for the final 15 or so minutes of the team's 5-1 friendly win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.

"It was a great moment," Haller told journalists after his debut. "I got a lot of applause, I got a lot of messages. Finally, after six months, I was really looking forward to play. When you sign for a club, you want to play direct. Now I hope I will play games.

"It’s a way better feeling than running in the forest. This feeling was missing the last months. That’s why I want to be on the pitch for the rest of the season, to play as many minutes as I can and stay fit."

Haller soon showed during the winter break that he wasn't just back to health, as his sharp eye for the net was very much still with him. In fact, he got three goals in the space of eight seven minutes, tucking away a penalty, then a Julian Brandt cross and finally a corner as BVB saw off Basel in their second game in Spain on 13 January.

Watch: Highlights of Haller's hat-trick

"It's the best feeling possible to come back, to score goals, to help the team," Haller told reporters afterwards. "I feel my body improving day by day, so it's the best thing I could imagine. Not only for me but also for the team, for everyone. I'll try to keep pushing like that, keep working together, and I hope I can be effective and useful for the team.

"The fact that everyone celebrated my goals with me shows the spirit of the team. A lot of things can happen on the pitch but we don't forget that we are all humans and that it's really important for us to stick together, to show that everyone counts. They came to me because they knew it wasn't an easy situation and also because for a striker to come back and score goals is the best feeling ever."

Terzic echoed those sentiments after the final whistle: "You could see how much good it did him to score the penalty, and the way the boys were all so happy for him after his first goal… those are the kind of things that make it feel easier on the pitch. You could also see the quality he has in the opposition penalty area."

Watch: Haller reflects on hat-trick heroics

Nine days later, back in Germany, during the 62nd minute of Dortmund's first Bundesliga match of 2023 against Augsburg, it was finally time. Haller's No.9 was illuminated on the fourth official's substitute board, and the Frenchman could enter the field to a massive round of applause from a packed Signal Iduna Park.

The Dortmund faithful had never previously seen him play in their colours, but they showed they fully recognised his struggle and very personal victory against cancer.

Watch: Haller makes his competitive comeback after testicular cancer

Haller voiced his appreciation for the fans' support after the dramatic 4-3 victory, saying: "It feels emotional. It means a lot to me, as it was not the easiest part of my life. I knew that I could count on the support of the fans, on the team, of everyone."

The feeling of being able to play competitive football again clearly struck Haller: "To be able to do things that I love the most, that's the best."

Watch: Haller: "Just about enjoying the moment"

Haller revealed that Terzic asked him to provide the Dortmund players with the final words in the dressing room before the Bundesliga match against Augsburg - in what must have been an emotional moment for all involved.

Haller said: "The coach asked me how I would feel doing this. I said I would talk if I had the chance to, because this is something bigger than football, I think.

"It was nice to make the other players try to realise that football is secondary to a lot of things and remind them why we play it."

The forward registered his first direct goal involvement in a competitive game for BVB when he came off the bench to set up Gio Reyna for a last-gasp winner in Mainz on Matchday 17.

Haller joined Dortmund after a record-breaking season with Ajax, during which he finished on an Eredivisie-leading 21 goals. He also ended up third in the UEFA Champions League scoring charts behind Karim Benzema (15) and Robert Lewandowski (13) after scoring 11 times during Ajax's run to the round of 16.

The Cote d'Ivoire international previously enjoyed a 33-goal spell in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt (2017 to 2019).