As the final whistle blew on Wednesday night in Al Khor, Moroccan players dropped to the ground in a culmination of disappointment and physical exhaustion. France had beaten them 2-0, but the Atlas Lions – the tournament’s giant killers – had gone toe to toe with the current champions throughout.
Amid the wild celebrations from the French players, their superstar forward, Kylian Mbappe, could be seen weaving his way around his teammates before leaning over his good friend and stalwart of the Moroccan defence, Achraf Hakimi. He helped the full-back to his feet before the two men shared a warm embrace.
The heartwarming moment reflects the sincere and public respect the two friends showed each other during Morocco’s first-ever World Cup semifinal appearance last night.
Before the match, the two were visibly pleased to see each other shaking hands and hugging in the tunnel, and during the game, they were seen sharing a joke. And barely a couple of hours after the match, Mbappe made his respect for his friend and the Moroccan side public.
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“Don’t be sad bro, everybody is proud of what you did, you made history,” the French star posted on Twitter, with an image of the friends embracing.
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) December 14, 2022
It is a longstanding friendship that has blossomed since Hakimi transferred to Paris Saint-Germain – where Mbappe also plays – in 2021. They are often seen socialising with each other outside of football, including a joint holiday in Spain.
Hakimi has earlier defended Mbappe when the prospect of him leaving PSG was brought up. “It’s a pleasure to have him by my side. He is one of the best players in the world, but above all, he is my friend. I love him,” Hakimi had told Telefoot in April.
The friends had playfully jousted with each other over social media in January this year when the prospect of facing each other at the World Cup was raised.
“I have to destroy my friend,” Mbappe joked in a short video message. “It will break my heart a little bit, but you know, that is football. I have to kill him.”
Hakimi’s response? “I’m going to smash him,” the 24-year-old Moroccan wing-back said with a smile.
But as the distant prospect became a reality, their public messaging became increasingly heartfelt.
See you soon my Friend ❤️🤝🏽 @KMbappe
— Achraf Hakimi (@AchrafHakimi) December 10, 2022
After the game, the two players swapped shirts, with Mbappe wearing Hakimi’s shirt back to front, ensuring his friend’s name was more visible during his celebrations.
In the tunnel, the two were spotted slumped against the wall, chatting together.
Love that after reaching the World Cup Final, Kylian Mbappe chose to just chill on the floor in the tunnel next to his friend Achraf Hakimi.❤️ pic.twitter.com/4dsrQgUoB0
— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) December 14, 2022
Morocco had reached the semifinal having only conceded one goal and with an unbeaten record. The Atlas Lions are the first Arab or African country to reach the World Cup semifinal stage.
The two players are both expected to play again for their respective countries at the World Cup: Mbappe against Argentina in the final, and Hakimi against Croatia in the tournament’s third-place playoff, before travelling back to Paris.