Mbappe, Hakimi in friendly duel as France take on Morocco

Friends…Mbappe and Hakimi

By R
ose Moses

No doubt, the Atlas Lions of Morocco have made themselves and Africa proud in the history of the World Cup. They are the first African side to make it to the semis of the tournament.

Today in Qatar, host of the 2022, edition of the tournament, the Walid Regragui boys will take on the defending Champions, France in what could be a very interesting outing.

What are their chances of making it to the finals? Well, only 90 mins or more of play will determine that.

But here is what there manager Walid Regragui, says of his team, via BBC: Morocco are one of the four best teams in the world now", as they aim to create more history and reach a World Cup final.

"Before every match people thought we would get knocked out, but we're still here," added Regragui, who only took charge of the side in August. "We're getting closer to our dreams and we'll fight to get there.

"If we say the semi-final is enough, I don't agree. We aren't satisfied with the semi-final and being the first African team to do that. We want to go further.

"You might think that's crazy, but a bit of craziness is good.

"We're hungry. I don't know if it will be enough, but we want Africa to be on top of the world. I know we're not favourites but we're confident."

Interestingly and also trending on social media is that two good friends, Kylian Mbappe of France will sweat it out against his very good friend, and club team mate in this instance on the Morocco side, Achraf Hakimi. That indeed, will be a duel forged by friendship.

Below is how Hindustan Times actually captures today’s encounter featuring the two friends. Read:

Since the Moroccan right-back moved to Paris Saint-Germain, the duo have become the best of friends.

At the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha on Wednesday night, when France take on Morocco in the second semi-final of the FIFA World Cup, Kylian Mbappe will be going toe to toe against the “best right-back in the world”. It is not us saying so but Mbappe who proclaimed in a tweet in January this year, “ACHRAF HAKIMI. BEST RB IN THE WORLD.”

It might be hard to tell though whether Mbappe, who has an irresistible claim to the label of the best footballer in the world right now, is guilty of a bit of bias. For Mbappe and Hakimi are the closest of mates. From playing video games and sharing meals to sitting next to each other on flights, they seem almost inseparable at French club Paris Saint-Germain. They even share their goal-celebration routine.

While Mbappe’s cross-armed slide was his trademark previously on finding the net, he now goes down on one knee, places the thumb of his left hand on his nose with the little finger stretched out and his right hand behind his back. The first time Mbappe — he has already netted five goals in this edition — showcased this routine was in unison with Hakimi back in April, in a Ligue 1 game against Lorient. Born just a month and 16 days apart in 1998, their friendship began blossoming in July 2021 when Hakimi signed a five-year deal with the Parisian giants from Italy’s Inter Milan.

Their bonhomie will have to take a backseat on Wednesday as they brace up for a mouth-watering match-up that is likely to have a major say in deciding the outcome of the game. Like always, Mbappe will look to inflict maximum damage from that left side, either cutting in to take a shot off his dominant right foot or beating Hakimi on the outside and sending in crosses for the towering Olivier Giroud. The 24-year-old Moroccan will know precisely what is coming his way, but whether he has the tools to thwart the French forward is a different matter altogether. Even in moments where the football is not near them, a 100-metre dash between the two is likely to be just as exciting considering the blistering speed that both possess.

They saw this duel brewing long before any of us expected Morocco to make history by becoming the first African team to enter the semi-finals of the World Cup. In January this year, the Paris Saint-Germain squad was on a tour of Qatar, and a 35-second Youtube clip of Mbappe and Hakimi inside the Education City Stadium in Doha reveals their prescience.

“After we play against Morocco, I have to destroy my friend,” says Mbappe in the video, indulging in banter with Hakimi alongside him. The latter promptly looks into the camera and shoots back, “I’m going to kick him.”

It was all light-hearted humour, of course, but the game on Wednesday is serious business.

Having come up against Kyle Walker in the quarter-final versus England, Mbappe is now up against another opponent who can’t be beaten for pace very easily. And as much as Hakimi will have to stay guarded defensively, he has the ability to charge forward on the right flank and launch attacks. On the occasions that Morocco have the ball, Hakimi will pose a threat alongside Hakim Ziyech against France left-back Theo Hernandez given that Mbappe isn’t inclined to defensive duties.

Regardless, Mbappe and Hakimi’s friendship highlights the relationships that footballers build at their clubs. With club football dominating the calendar for 10 months in a year, players are likely to know far more about their teammates at club level than their colleagues for the country. They also know their games inside out, which can either be an advantage or a disadvantage at these rare meetings at the international level.

Only one of them, of course, will progress to the final on Sunday. The high-intensity match-up might create some friction for however long the game is played on Wednesday, but you can be certain that they will go back to being close friends once the contest is done and dusted.


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