They stand shoulder to shoulder when facing the best teams in Europe – playing week in, week out as teammates in the devastating lineup of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). They hang out off the pitch. And they’ve even gone on holiday together.
But all that will change when the whistle blows in Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday night. For at least 90 minutes, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi will be arch-foes, hell-bent on beating the other for a place in the World Cup final.
During a PSG trip earlier this year to Qatar, the site of the 2022 World Cup, they raised the prospect of facing each other.
“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.
Throwback to January 2022, when Kylian Mbappé predicted he would face Achraf Hakimi at the World Cup:
Mbappé: "I will have to destroy my friend… It will break my heart a little but that's football."
Hakimi: "I'm going to smash him."
— Football Tweet ⚽ (@Football__Tweet) December 12, 2022
It’s a face-off being relished by football fans all around the world. Both men are fast. Really fast. Mbappe was clocked reaching 35.6km/h (22.1mph) during this season’s UEFA Champions League. Hakimi also hit 35km/h.
It’s not just about speed, though. According to the number crunchers, Hakimi completes more passes (an average of 91 in a 90-minute game, compared with Mbappe’s 84) and wins more challenges (53 per 90 for Hakimi, just 32 for Mbappe).
But Mbappe scores many more goals.
Defensively, Hakimi’s record is stellar. No one has yet been able to score against Morocco in this tournament: the only goal they have conceded was an own goal.
But Hakimi will not just be tasked with stopping France’s 23-year-old superstar Mbappe. He has attacking responsibilities of his own, with Morocco looking to strike on the counter in their games at the World Cup so far.
“It’s going to be a great duel between the two,” Morocco head coach Walid Regragui told reporters on Tuesday. “They’re both champions, world-class players and they’re both going to be going at it.
“We should be focusing on what we can do to cause problems for France … we’re going to have to counter the threat of Kylian. But I have no doubt that Hakimi will be on top form to get the better of his friend.”
The friendship is clear: they celebrate goals with the same penguin dance routine, they went on holiday to Spain together, and they’ve reportedly even been spotted hanging out in Qatar together.
“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 told Telefoot.
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) December 10, 2022