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Tchouaméni shows at World Cup why Mbappé wanted him at PSG


DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Kylian Mbappé is finally getting his chance to play alongside Aurélien Tchouaméni with France into the World Cup semifinals and Morocco up next on Wednesday.

Tchouaméni’s displays at the heart of the France midfield — and his impressive goal against England in the quarterfinals — have shown why Real Madrid paid 80 million euros ($84.5 million) to sign him in June.

The 22-year-old Tchouaméni, who loves American culture and cites Barack Obama as an inspiration, moved to Madrid despite Mbappé tempting him to team up together at Paris Saint-Germain.

Six months ago, it was far from clear Tchouaméni would be a starter for France in its bid to become the first team in 60 years to successfully defend its World Cup title. Injuries to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, the midfield standouts from four years ago, opened the way to an unlikely new pairing of Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot.

In 2018, Rabiot had exiled himself from the France team and Tchouaméni was an 18-year-old prospect at Bordeaux drawing comparisons to the established stars.

Tchouaméni has the tall elegance of Pogba and, as he showed in France’s 2-1 win over England, shooting power from distance.

He revealed back in 2018 he earned the tag “TchouaNgolo” after showing ball recovery skills matching Kanté, the master of that art.

Two seasons in the first team at Bordeaux, alongside his good friend and now France teammate Jules Koundé, earned a step up in 2020 to Monaco, where Mbappé was nurtured as a teenager.

This year, Tchouaméni had his choice of top European clubs. He turned down Champions League finalist Liverpool and opted instead for the Madrid team that won that title.

He is now learning from Madrid teammates Luka Modrić and 2014 World Cup winner Toni Kroos, who wears the No. 8 shirt that Tchouaméni has with France.

Education is important to the young Frenchman, who said this year he was attracted at a young age to American culture through following the NBA.

“Right away I got hooked on the United States, through great athletes, great musicians or historical figures of this great country, like Martin Luther King, Barack Obama,” Tchouaméni said in an interview published by his then-club Monaco.

He said he started to learn English to better understand the music he was listening to.

After keeping England phenom Jude Bellingham quiet for much of the match against England, Tchouaméni is one win away from reaching the final at his first major tournament.

Waiting for him across the field Sunday would be an iconic No. 10 — either Croatia captain Modrić or Argentina captain Lionel Messi.

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