beck' of the net | 

Kylian Mbappe bracing himself for duel with best friend known as the ‘Moroccan Beckham’

Jason BurtTelegraph.co.uk

On the only day off he has had during this World Cup, Kylian Mbappe chose to visit the Wyndham Doha West Bay hotel where the Morocco team are staying. Why? Because he wanted to see his friend Achraf Hakimi.

They now stand in each other’s way as holders France face Morocco, the tournament’s surprise package, in today’s semi-final.

The Morocco right-back, who is his country’s highest-profile player and has been dubbed the ‘Moroccan Beckham’ due to his glamorous actress wife Hiba Abouk, will be tasked with stopping Mbappe, who primarily operates down France’s left flank.

As Morocco coach Walid Regragui put it: “Hakimi knows Mbappe better than I do.”

In contrast to England’s approach, Regragui added: “We are not going to make an anti-Mbappe plan.”

It will be fascinating to see how the contest unfolds because the two players really are best friends. It is a friendship that developed once Paris Saint-Germain signed Hakimi from Inter Milan for up to £60million in July 2021.

Mbappe, who speaks fluent Spanish, as well as English and French and is learning Portuguese and Italian, immediately sought out Hakimi, not least because he wanted to practise his Spanish on the Madrid-born signing.

There were other Spanish speakers in the PSG squad, such as Angel Di Maria, but they were older. Mbappe is 23, Hakimi is 24, and they are very similar, outgoing characters and they connected.

Both are the sons of immigrant African families – Paris-born Mbappe’s parents are of Cameroonian and Algerian origin; Hakimi’s are, of course, Moroccan – and there was a mutual bond that quickly strengthened.

Mbappe brought Hakimi into his circle and helped find him somewhere to live, showed him the best restaurants, even took him clothes shopping, and they played video games together. The friendship blossomed and has been noticed on the pitch. When PSG’s Argentinian midfielder Leandro Paredes – now on loan at Juventus – had a go at Hakimi, it was Mbappe who stepped in.

Last year, there was a famous photograph after PSG were forced by poor weather to take a coach to their away match against Stade Rennais rather than fly. It shows Mbappe and Hakimi sitting on the floor of a Carrefour Express supermarket after the bus stopped at a service station.

In Qatar, they have been in constant contact. That has been evidenced on social media with Mbappe responding to the audacious Panenka penalty that Hakimi scored to beat Spain in the last-16 shoot-out by tweeting his friend’s name followed by a series of emojis, including one of a penguin, to mimic the defender’s celebrations (it is a celebration the PSG players have previously adopted).

Now they will play against each other and the stakes could barely be higher.

Given Mbappe’s status as the best player in the world at present, will Hakimi be intimidated or will it spur him on?

There is another dimension. In January, PSG finally flew to Doha for their delayed annual winter tour with Mbappe and Hakimi recording a video that has now proved to be eerily accurate, especially as few predicted that Morocco would progress so far in this tournament – they are the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final.

“We’re here in the stadium, Education City Stadium,” Mbappe explained to the camera in English, “40,000 people can come here. France-Tunisia. I hope we’ll win and then, after, we’ll play against Morocco.”

As he looked at Hakimi, he then said: “I’ll have to destroy my friend.”

Hakimi responded: “I’m going to kick him” to which Mbappe replied, laughing: “That will break my heart a little bit. But you know football. It is what it is. I have to kill him.”

Given Morocco have the best defence at this World Cup, having only conceded one goal, and that being an own goal, it is a fascinating contest.

And one all the more intriguing because of the close friendship which could be key to the outcome.


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