DOHA, Qatar (AP)Kylian Mbappe is going to meet his good friend Achraf Hakimi again at this World Cup.
Not like the first time in Qatar last week, when the France star went to visit his Paris Saint-Germain teammate at the Morocco team hotel in downtown Doha.
On Wednesday, Mbappe will be marked by Hakimi in a World Cup semifinal – his path to Morocco’s well-defended goal down the French left wing blocked by a player he rates highly.
”ACHRAF HAKIMI. BEST RB IN THE WORLD,” Mbappe wrote in English on his Twitter account in January, referring to the right back position Hakimi occupies for club and country.
It is a high-level duel as both approach a World Cup summit that would be historic for either team.
Mbappe versus Hakimi – the tournament’s top scorer with five goals in five games against the standout talent in the tournament-best defense that has conceded just once, and it was an own-goal.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship when the Moroccan player joined Mbappe at PSG in July 2021 from Inter Milan for a transfer fee reported to be 60 million euros ($63 million).
Two young men born within several weeks of each other in 1998 – just a few months after France won its first World Cup title – soon got along.
Hakimi has talked of how they share the same tastes in music and video games, and that Mbappe helps his Madrid-born friend learn French.
Hakimi is a devout Muslim and for the Eid Mubarak holiday this year they teamed up for a video shared by their club. Hakimi guided Mbappe, who has family ties to Morocco’s north African neighbor Algeria, through tasting food from the Arab region.
On the field for the French champion, they have a series of rehearsed handshakes and goal celebrations. Playing for PSG gives them many opportunities.
”It’s easy to play with a player like him,” Hakimi has said of Mbappe. ”To give him the ball, knowing that he will make the difference.”
Mbappe has been the difference at this World Cup, especially when he score twice in wins over Denmark in the group stage and Poland in the round of 16.
In the quarterfinals on Saturday, Mbappe was kept in check about as much as is possible by England’s speedy right back Kyle Walker. He got just one clear shooting chance that went high and wide.
Still, he was involved in the move that led to France’s first goal in a 2-1 win and the decisive late winner followed a corner on the left flank that he helped create.
Morocco’s defense has stood like an immovable force and all its European opponents so far – Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal – failed to score in four full games plus extra time for the Spanish.
Hakimi has helped limit Morocco’s opponents to just 10 goal attempts on target combined, according to FIFA post-game statistics. Canada got an own-goal from defender Nayef Aguerd in a 2-1 win for Morocco.
Mbappe, meanwhile, has had 10 shots on target just by himself for a France team whose 11-goal total is the best of the four semifinalists.
At Al Khor Stadium on Wednesday, Mbappe continues pursuing his goal of being the youngest player besides Pele to have two World Cup titles. France can become the first to retain its title since Pele and Brazil in 1962.
Hakimi wants to be among the first African players to reach a World Cup final. That would be against either Croatia or Argentina, whose star Lionel Messi also plays for Qatar-owned PSG.
May the best friend win.
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