In the blue corner, Kylian Mbappe stands tall as the undisputed champion of the world. In the red corner, Achraf Hakimi is a fight away from one of the greatest underdog stories of all time.
They are team-mates and good friends but Mbappe and Hakimi must park all congeniality on Wednesday as France and Morocco go head-to-head for a place in the World Cup final.
Not only will the Paris Saint-Germain stars share the pitch at the Al Bayt Stadium, but the pair will get up close and personal with Hakimi set to mark the French star on the left flank.
Close friends Kylian Mbappe (L) and Achraf Hakimi (R) will go head-to-head in the semi-finals
The PSG team-mates have been close friends since the Moroccan star joined the club in 2021
Ranked fourth in the world by FIFA, France no doubt head into the semi-final as the Goliath. Blessed with a dressing room of experienced superstars, Didier Deschamps arguably boasts the most frightening attack left in the competition, even without a certain 35-year-old Argentine.
Mbappe is the tournament’s joint top scorer with five goals so far – but that won’t faze Morocco’s fearless defence.
The World Cup’s giant-killers, who knocked down Spain and Portugal en route to the last four, have kept four clean sheets in five matches in Qatar, valuing organised and determined defending above all else.
Mbappe has guided France to the last four as the World Cup’s top scorer with five goals
So far, Mbappe and Hakimi have supported each other. After the right-back’s decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Spain, France’s talisman took to Twitter to congratulate his team-mate.
‘ACHRAF HAKIMI,’ he wrote emphatically in support of his close friend, before later posting a photograph of the pair together in Qatar.
His capitalised tweet called back to a statement he posted to Twitter in English back in January. ‘ACHRAF HAKIMI, THE BEST RB IN THE WORLD,’ he claimed.
England’s Kyle Walker was labelled, at least amongst Three Lions fans, as the only man capable of stopping France’s irresistible force. But as far as Mbappe is concerned, a tougher test awaits on Wednesday.
Hakimi has played a key role in Morocco’s defence, conceding just one goal in five matches
Hakimi and Mbappe are not just good friends. According to L’Equipe, the PSG duo have ‘shared everything’ for 15 months since the right-back’s arrival at the club.
Born just a month apart, Mbappe, 23, and Hakimi, 24, forged a special friendship soon after the latter joined PSG in the summer of 2021.
‘Kylian was one of the first who went to talk to Achraf when he arrived,’ a Parc de Princes insider told the French newspaper.
‘He immediately tried to help him. Kylian spoke Spanish and I think he wanted to continue practising that language.
When Hakimi arrived in France in 2021, Mbappe introduced the right-back to Parisian culture
The French forward claimed his PSG team-mate was the best right-back in the world in January
‘Then they are (more or less) the same age. They’ve spent time in each other’s rooms. You don’t have to look further – they found each other.’
During the early stages of Hakimi’s PSG career, Mbappe almost chaperoned the Moroccan, going far beyond the responsibilities of a key player on the pitch.
Not only did the forward give Hakimi a luxurious insight into Parisian culture, taking him to fashionable restaurants in and around the city, he reportedly advised him on housing and introduced him to his circle of friends and family.
Mbappe has consistently supported his close friend on social media throughout the World Cup
Through Mbappe, Hakimi met the Frenchman’s personal barber and close friend Brice Tchaga, who first began styling the forward’s hair during his time at Monaco.
The trio have since spent a lot of time together, meeting up at each other’s houses, attending opulent fashion shows and playing video games, among other activities.
L’Equipe has even reported that Hakimi would consider his future at the French capital were his friend to leave the Parc de Princes.
Mbappe (L), his personal hairdresser Brice Tchaga (C) and Hakimi (R) are all very close friends
During the early stages of the World Cup, Mbappe visited the Moroccan training camp during a day off to see Hakimi and send his best wishes.
Few backed Morocco to advance to the semi-finals – the earliest point at which Mbappe and Hakimi could meet on the pitch in Qatar – but the French megastar claimed the pair would face off at the World Cup back in May.
‘Here, we (France) will play against my friend, I will have to destroy him. It’s going to break my heart. I’m going to smash it,’ Mbappe light-heartedly told PSG TV on a training camp in Doha last summer.
Morocco have not made a specific plan to stop France’s talisman according to Walid Regragui
Morocco boss Walid Regragui revealed on Tuesday that Hakimi is ‘highly motivated’ ahead of the contest.
‘They are two champions, who won’t be giving away any gifts. Achraf is highly motivated to beat his friend,’ he said.
On Wednesday, the world will see whether friendship is the ingredient that fuels Mbappe or proves to be his Achilles’ heel.