Morocco right-back Achraf Hakimi believes his decisive set-pieces at the Africa Cup of Nations could help him assert himself in the Paris Saint-Germain free-kick hierarchy when he returns to his club side after the tournament.
The full-back is currently behind Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in the set-piece pecking order at the Parc des Princes, but after netting two sublime free kicks in Cameroon he reckons he could make a case for more dead-ball duties in Ligue 1.
Hakimi’s 70th-minute 35-yard strike took Morocco past Malawi by a final score of 2-1 in the Nations Cup round of 16 at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaounde on Tuesday, with Youssef En-Nesyri having earlier cancelled out Gabadinho Mhango’s sublime opener.
“In Paris, we have a lot of players who can take free kicks,” Hakimi told ESPN. “There’s Messi, Neymar, Mbappe, I try, but it’s difficult. I’ll speak to them when I get back to Paris.
“Right now I’m focusing on the national team, but afterwards, we’ll see what happens in Paris.”
Hakimi was named Man of the Match for his scintillating role in Morocco’s knockout triumph — their first since 2004 — having earlier netted a near-identical free kick to secure a point against Gabon in a 2-2 draw in the group stage.
“The goal against Gabon was beautiful, the best of my career, but today I was lucky too, with another goal,” he continued. “I don’t know which is more beautiful, I need to look at them again, but they’re difficult to score from that angle.
“Sometimes I work on this kind of thing in training, and it’s working — I can do it very well — so I’m happy when I can do this kind of shot in the game after working on it so much.”
After taking responsibility for Morocco’s free kicks, Hakimi now has his eyes on penalty duties for the Atlas Lions according to head coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who isn’t entirely convinced that the full-back is ready to replace En-Nesyri just yet.
“After training he always wants to shoot and take free kicks,” Halilhodzic added. “He’s among the last there in training, always taking free kicks from both sides.
“Now he even wants penalties, but I’ve said to him: ‘When you’re taking penalties for Paris, then you can take them for us,’ with Neymar, Mbappe, it [won’t be easy].
“He’s a boy with remarkable technique, a phenomenal strike, and that’s a real weapon for us when the team’s play isn’t working, there he is to score and all the better for us.”
During Tuesday’s match, Hakimi’s PSG teammate Mbappe took to his Twitter to celebrate the full-back’s performance against Malawi, and declare him the “best RB in the world.”
“I’m really happy to hear those kinds of words from my friend Kylian, he’s also a big player and I respect him a lot,” Hakimi said. “He did so many great things, and it’s good to hear such things from this kind of player.”
A Serie A winner with Internazionale last season, Hakimi will be hoping to add the Nations Cup title to his burgeoning trophy cabinet as the North African giants progress in the tournament.