Soccer-Ajax forward Haller silences critics with four-goal haul

Soccer Football - Champions League - Group C - Sporting Lisbon v Ajax - Jose Alvalade Stadium, Lisbon, Portugal - September 15, 2021 Ajax's Sebastien Haller celebrates scoring their fifth goal and his fourth REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON (Reuters) - It was only last month that Sebastien Haller was being jeered off the field but the towering Ajax forward proved his worth on Wednesday with four goals in their 5-1 Champions League win at Sporting Lisbon.

The gangly 27-year-old striker, who Ajax forgot to register for European competition last season, delivered a masterclass in finishing as the Dutch club got the perfect start to their Group C campaign.

“It’s my best game ever. You only dream of this. You wait your whole life for these kinds of matches,” Haller said.

“You should enjoy such matches, these are beautiful memories. I just had to score, not only for myself, but also for the team and the fans.”

Last season, an administrative error saw Haller’s name left off Ajax’s registration list for the knockout stages of the Europa League and he was forced to sit on the sidelines while they advanced to the quarter-finals.

"You look forward to it even more,” said Haller of finally getting his chance to play for Ajax in Europe.

The French-born Ivory Coast international is the second player in Champions League history to score four goals on debut but the first to do that in an away game.

Haller, who was Ajax’s record signing when they paid 22.5-million euros ($26.52 million) to West Ham United in January, had been jeered off the field last month when substituted in a 4-0 loss to PSV Eindhoven in the season-opening Johan Cruyff Shield.

However, coach Erik ten Hag said any doubts about his ability had been quashed.

“Four goals in the Champions League ... I think that is very exceptional. I remember (Marco) Van Basten doing it, and he is one of the biggest icons, and that indicates what a historic achievement this is.

“It also says something about the qualities that Haller has. Not only in the physicality that he brings, but also in the sense of his positioning and finishing. You also have to be mentally strong to be able to do this.”

($1 = 0.8485 euros)

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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