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

Tchouameni’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 Tchouameni, who loves American culture and cites Barack Obama as an inspiration, moved to Madrid despite Mbappe tempting him to team up together at Paris Saint-Germain.

Six months ago, it was far from clear Tchouameni 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 Kante, the midfield standouts from four years ago, opened the way to an unlikely new pairing of Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot.

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

Tchouameni 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 Kante, the master of that art.

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

This year, Tchouameni 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 Modric and 2014 World Cup winner Toni Kroos, who wears the No. 8 shirt that Tchouameni 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,” Tchouameni 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, Tchouameni 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 Modric or Argentina captain Lionel Messi.

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