Mbappe vs Hakimi: The bromance-turned-battle that could decide France and Morocco's World Cup fate
Kylian Mbappe versus Achraf Hakimi at the 2022 World Cup – it appeared highly unlikely, but maybe it was just meant to be.
Back in January, Paris Saint-Germain visited Qatar and the players were given a tour of some of the venues. During a visit to Education City, Mbappe predicted France would meet Morocco at some point during the tournament.
"I will have to destroy my friend," he joked. "That will break my heart a little, but it's football. It is what it is. I have to kill him."
Easier said than done, though. If this World Cup has taught us anything, it's that Hakimi's Morocco never say die. Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal have all tried and failed to tame the Atlas Lions, who have become the first African nation to the reach the semi-finals.
As a rightly proud Walid Regragui enthused, "We’ve already proven all the data analysts wrong. We have already achieved great things, but we feel it’s not enough. We want to go further."
But now they must face Mbappe, the tournament's joint-top scorer, with five goals.
🇲🇦👑🏽… @AchrafHakimi pic.twitter.com/fDCyfMI7LM— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) December 6, 2022
Regragui has pointed out that it would be a mistake to focus solely on stopping the 23-year-old World Cup winner. As they proved against England in the quarter-finals, France have many other attacking threats.
Gareth Southgate and his side actually did a decent job cutting the supply line to Mbappe, but they were still undone by the creative genius of Antoine Griezmann and the aerial prowess of Olivier Giroud. Therefore, there will be no "anti-Mbappe plan", as Regragui put it.
Still, having Hakimi at right-back is a huge advantage. Few players know Mbappe better. They haven't just been facing one another in training for the past 18 months, they've also developed developed a close bond.
Indeed, as previously reported by GOAL France, Mbappe played a massive role in Hakimi's integration into the PSG set-up following his arrival from Inter in the summer of 2021, speaking Spanish with a player born in Madrid.
The pair share a love of fashion and video games, so it was no surprise that Mbappe quickly welcomed Hakimi into his inner circle, which is precisely why the Moroccan found out that the French forward had decided to reject Real Madrid and stay at the Parc des Princes before any of his PSG team-mates.
It was also Hakimi who bestowed the 'Pinguino' nickname upon Mbappe, and he even pulled out the penguin celebration after pulling off a Panenka penalty in Morocco's shootout win over Spain. Mbappe, who visited Hakimi on the eve of the game during a day off from training with France, was unsurprisingly among the first to congratulate his club-mate.
Now, though, they must face one another with a place in the World Cup final on the line. Indeed, shortly after France had beaten England to set up a last-four clash with Morocco, Hakimi tweeted, "See you soon, my friend."
See you soon my Friend ❤️🤝🏽 @KMbappe— Achraf Hakimi (@AchrafHakimi) December 10, 2022
He's actually looking forward to arguably the toughest task in world football: keeping Mbappe quiet.
"Achraf is highly motivated to beat his friend," Regragui confirmed. "They are two champions, who won’t be giving away any gifts. But Hakimi is a big champion, so I’m not worried."
The right-back certainly has all of the attributes required to nullify the colossal threat posed by France's left winger.
Mbappe is obviously freakishly fast. Kyle Walker is one of the quickest players in the Premier League and yet the one time Mbappe really got a chance to run at him, the Manchester City defender couldn't keep up. It was like watching Usain Bolt's opponents match him for 60 metres before eventually being blown away in the final 40.
Hakimi, though, is so quick that even the great Ronaldo has admitted that he would have loved to have played alongside him. "We would go at some pace," the Brazilian legend told the Gazzetta dello Sport.
However, the main reason why Hakim's performances have drawn such attention and praise at this tournament is the obvious improvement in his tackling and timing.
His one season at Inter was key in that regard. Hakimi had run riot during his two-year loan at Borussia Dortmund, but it was telling that then-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane still didn't deem the Moroccan good enough to be his first-choice right-back at the Bernabeu.
There were ongoing doubts over his defensive work. Working with Antonio Conte during a season-long stay at Inter changed all that. "I already knew that I could do well in attack," Hakimi explained earlier this year. "But with Conte I learned a lot in the defensive phase."
He may have had his ups and downs at PSG, but the evidence of his improvement has been there for all to see in Qatar. There is arguably no more complete full-back in the world right now.
No defender has made (19) or won more tackles (13) at the World Cup, while he also ranks first for duels won (35). His battle with Mbappe will, therefore, be fascinating, and potentially decisive.
Both players have proven integral to their respective teams' progression to the last four. The outcome of their duel will be hugely influential.
For 90 minutes, or maybe even 120, the this bromance will become a battle and, as Mbappe warned in January, it will be kill or be killed.
One can be sure, though, that when the final whistle blows, the victor will be the first to console his fallen friend.