Born just a month and a half apart, the two play video games together, sit next to each other on flights, vacation together, and even celebrate goals.
Achraf Hakimi, Morocco’s brilliant right-back, is Kylian Mbappé’s best friend at Paris Saint-Germain. Now, however, it’s time to put that friendship aside. The pair are on opposite sides as Morocco take on France in the second semi-final of the FIFA World Cup.
Morocco coach Walid Regragui has no doubt that Hakimi will be at his best.
“He (Hakimi) knows Mbappé better than I do, he trains with him every day,” said Regragui. ‘He’s in a better position than I am to get to know Kylian. They are two champions who don’t give away presents. I have no doubt that Hakimi will be in great shape to beat his friend.”
The “waddling” with which Hakimi marked his decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Spain in the round of 16, although initially seen in the NFL, is in part a reference to Mbappé’s nickname at PSG, “The Penguin”. Mbappe saw it and tweeted Hakimi’s name, with a crown, a heart and a penguin emoji.
When Kylian Mbappe had a day off at the World Cup last week, there was one obvious place to go. A 20-minute drive to the hotel, the Moroccan team is staying to visit his friend Hakimi.
Mbappe’s social media feeds are full of photos of him with the good and the greats – from Paris Saint-Germain colleagues Neymar and Lionel Messi, to former France international Thierry Henry to Spider-Man actor Tom Holland – but no one comes quite like this common when Hakimi is in his feed.
There is no lack of common ground for the duo. Both share parental ties to Africa, with Hakimi’s parents Hassan and Saida moving from Morocco before his birth, while Mbappe’s father Wilfried is from Cameroon and his mother Fayza Lamari has an Algerian background.
All of them had also had surprising success by their late teens. In 2018, Mbappe – who had already moved from Monaco to PSG, initially on loan – won a World Cup with France; Hakimi, meanwhile, took the Champions League and Club World Cup winner’s medals with Madrid.
So when Hakimi joined Mbappé at PSG in July last year, when he moved from Inter, the Parisian quickly recognized a kindred spirit. He immediately did his best to help Hakimi settle in, enjoying practicing the excellent Spanish he had learned as a teenager, and they were soon seen as inseparable by their teammates. The club even gave the newcomer the locker next to his new friend’s.
While there is no doubt that Mbappé will be more of a focus than Hakimi when they meet as rivals, the latter has had an excellent tournament. Morocco have conceded just one own goal in their five games, with the right-back already knocking out Thorgan Hazard, Dani Olmo and Joao Félix.
No player has made more than his 19 tackles and only two defenders (Australian Aziz Behich and Sergiño Dest from the United States) have attempted more than his 11 dribbles. With centre-backs Romain Saïss and Nayef Aguerd both injured, and left-back Noussair Mazraoui trying to shake off an illness, he is the only member of Morocco’s first-choice back four who is certain to play against France.
None of Hakimi’s contributions on the pitch have had the same viral appeal or emotional impact as the footage of him kissing his mother, Saida Mouh, after Morocco’s victories. She cleaned houses in Madrid, where Achraf was born, and his father was a street vendor.
“We come from a humble family that struggled to make a living,” Hakimi said in an interview in 2018. “They made sacrifices for me. They robbed my brothers of many things so that I could succeed. Today I fight every day for them.”
Morocco will clearly be the underdog against France, but Regragui has said they are not ready to give up on their “crazy” dream. “We came to this competition to change the mentality within our continent,” he said. “If we say that the semi-final is enough, I disagree.
“We are not satisfied with the semi-final and that we are the first African team to do so. We want to go further.
“Before every game, people thought we would be eliminated, but we are still here. We are getting closer to our dreams and we will fight to get there. I don’t know if it will be enough, but we want Africa to be at the top of the world. You might think that’s crazy, but a little crazy is good.”
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Didier Deschamps described Morocco’s as “the best defense in the World Cup”, but said France had “tried to take note of some key things we’ve seen” that could help them beat Regragui’s watertight 4-3-3 system to unlock.