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FIFA World Cup 2022: Friends to the foe

Updated on: 14 December,2022 07:51 AM IST  |  Doha
Ashwin Ferro | ashwin.ferro@mid-day.com

Tonight’s second semi-final between France and Morocco will be an engaging battle between Kylian Mbappe, who leads the French attack and Achraf Hakimi, who mans the Moroccan defence, both good friends and PSG teammates

FIFA World Cup 2022: Friends to the foe

Achraf Hakimi of Morocco and France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe. Pics/Getty Images

Ashwin FerroThere are no secrets in friendship, they say. But one close friendship in Wednesday’s second semi-final between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium will definitely have a few. 


There is no way that France’s left winger Kylian Mbappe and Morocco’s right back Achraf Hakimi—the two Paris Saint Germain club teammates and good friends—would have discussed their respective national team’s strategies at football’s biggest competition. 


Their friendship is well known though, with Mbappe, in the past, even visiting Morocco during his holidays for a meet up. It is learnt that the duo have even caught up here during their off days at the World Cup, where both players have been key performers for their countries.


While Mbappe leads the Golden Boot race with five goals so far, Hakimi’s defensive capabilities have ensured his team conceded just one time in five matches and that too off an own-goal. Both players are audaciously confident too and not shy to exhibit it.

Also Read: FIFA World Cup 2022: French record breakers set for semifinal with Morocco

Bold and skillful

Mbappe, 23, has been flawless in his stepovers and speed runs against anyone who comes in front of him, while the equally quick Hakimi, 24, proved his fearlessness with a daring Panenka-style penalty in the shootout to dump former champions Spain out in the pre-quarterfinals. The duo perfectly match-up to each other in terms of skill and game intelligence too.

So, who will hold the edge on the big night?

Morocco’s coach Walid Regragui is confident his man will have the measure of Mbappe. “Achraf knows Kylian much better than me. He trains with him on a daily basis [at PSG] so he’s better placed than I am to counter Kylian. Achraf is one of the best players in the world in his position, so it will be a great duel. They will both go hell for leather at each other,” said Regragui during the match-eve press conference at the Main Media Centre here on Tuesday.

Similar scenario

France’s skipper and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who recently experienced a similarly ‘friendly’ encounter when he faced up to Tottenham teammate and England captain Harry Kane in the quarter-finals, admitted that it’s not easy to take on someone you know too well. “It’s true that it may be more difficult to face a teammate because you know each other so well. You may be able to surprise them or you may not, but I believe that though Achraf and Kylian are good friends the match will take precedence over everything else. France v Morocco is a match between two strong football teams and our objective is to qualify for the final,” said Lloris. 

And what do the two players think will happen when they cross paths on world football’s biggest stage? 

Earlier this year, Hakimi and Mbappe visited the Education City Stadium here as part of a PSG tour, where the latter predicted a possible World Cup clash between France and Morocco. “I will destroy him. It will break my heart a little bit, but I have to kill him,” a laughing Mbappe said, looking into the camera and pointing towards his friend. Hakimi smiled and replied, “I will kick him.”  

Also Read: Morocco not just satisfied with historic Last-Eight slot

Road to the semi-finals

Morocco
Group stage
Drew with Croatia 0-0
Beat Belgium 2-0
Beat Canada 2-1
Round of 16: 
Beat Spain 3-0
Quarter-final: Beat Portugal 1-0

France
Group stage
Beat Australia 4-1
Beat Denmark 2-1
Lost to Tunisia 1-0
Round of 16: 
Beat Poland 3-1
Quarter-final: Beat
England 2-1

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