On a visit to Qatar in January, Kylian Mbappe predicted France would play Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco at the World Cup.The Paris Saint-Germain star was examining the surroundings in Qatar with club team-mate Hakimi when Mbappe jokingly put forward to possibility they would face one another, adding “I have to destroy my friend,” to which Hakimi replied, quick as a flash, “I am going to kick him.”Fast-forward 11 months and that semi-serious guess came true, with the very serious prize of a World Cup final place on the line.Separated in age by just six weeks, Mbappe and Hakimi have built a strong bond in Paris since the latter moved to PSG in July 2021, with a clear respect on the pitch as well as off it.Mbappe called Hakimi the best right-back in the world after the former Inter man’s free-kick for Morocco against Malawi at the Africa Cup of Nations sent the Atlas Lions into the quarter-finals of that tournament in late January.Hakimi returned the compliment in April when asked about Mbappe’s club future, saying: “Mbappe is one of the best players in the world, and my friend.”When Morocco’s surprise run to the final four in Qatar lined them up against the defending world champions, Hakimi v Mbappe promised to be more than merely a contest between good pals, because they also happen to be among the best footballers on the planet.In 2021-22, Mbappe became the first player to finish as both the top scorer (28 goals) and top assister (17 assists) in a Ligue 1 season since those two awards have been handed out (2007-08), and was directly involved in more goals in all competitions (60 – 39 goals, 21 assists) than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.During that same season, Hakimi was the defender involved in the most sequences in open play that ended in a goal in Ligue 1 (22).Their brilliance extended to the World Cup, where, prior to the semi-finals, as well as being the tournament’s top scorer at the time (five), no player had attempted more than Mbappe’s 32 dribbles, with only Germany’s Jamal Musiala (19) completing more than his 15, while no defender had won as many duels as Hakimi’s 35, made as many tackles as his 19 or won as many tackles as his 13.Coach Walid Regragui said before the semi-final that there would be no “anti-Mbappe plan” from his team, adding:
“To focus on Mbappe would be a mistake. Hakimi is one of the best in the world in his position, too, so it will be a great duel between two champions, both going at it hell for leather.”In the fifth minute at Al Bayt Stadium, Mbappe had a chance to get the upper hand as he received the ball in the Morocco penalty area, and though his effort was blocked, the ball fell kindly to Theo Hernandez to fire France into an early lead; in fact, the earliest scored by any side in a World Cup semi-final since 1958.It took until the 35th minute for Mbappe to show off his electric pace, racing in behind after Aurelien Tchouameni had won the ball and played him in, only for his scuffed attempt to be cleared.Hakimi was largely having the better of their duel, tackling Mbappe well on one occasion while he also made more passes in the final third than anyone else on the pitch in the first-half as Morocco looked for an equaliser.Early in the second half the two were in a race again as Antoine Griezmann played in Mbappe, but Hakimi was able to ease his friend away from the ball after anticipating the sort of run he is so familiar with.Even when Mbappe finally got away from Hakimi, he found himself getting absolutely clattered by the impressive Sofyan Amrabat as France struggled to stay on top.The personal battle looked effectively over when Marcus Thuram replaced Olivier Giroud in the 65th minute, with Mbappe moving centrally.However, with 11 minutes remaining, Mbappe drifted slightly back out left and turned beautifully away from Hakimi as he dribbled through the Moroccan defence before his deflected shot fell kindly to substitute Randal Kolo Muani to put the game beyond doubt.When Mbappe said in January with a wry smile that he was going to “destroy” Hakimi, he followed up with: “That will break my heart a little bit, but you know football, it is what it is. I have to kill him.”The 79th minute was the first real moment where Mbappe had got the better of his friend, and it proved to be the final dagger that would kill Morocco’s World Cup dreams.Hakimi did have one final moment where he was able to stop Mbappe from adding to the score with a determined tackle, but ultimately the last laugh belonged to the French forward as Les Bleus secured a 2-0 victory, with Mbappe likely having the full support of his friend when he lines up to potentially win his second World Cup against Argentina on Sunday.They shook hands and swapped shirts after the final whistle having enjoyed a battle. While Mbappe may not have destroyed his friend, he ensured bragging rights for the next few years at least.