In just two days’ time, Simon Kjaer will be leading Denmark into the World Cup as the captain of his country. The centre-back had a busy summer last year, when he moved from Fenerbahce to Sevilla on a four-year contract. This time around, the 29-year-old will be closely watched by his nation and football supporters worldwide as the greatest show on earth comes to Russia.
Denmark may not be among the favourites to win the World Cup like Spain were before Julen Lopetegui’s shock sacking, but football has always shown us that no team can ever be underestimated. Indeed, the Scandinavians did just that back in 1992 to lift the European Championship.
Football Espana’s Asif Norat had the honourable opportunity of speaking to Kjaer himself about the upcoming showpiece…
FE: What do you see as your most important job as captain of the national team?
SK: “It will be to share my experience with the younger players. You know that your whole nation will be watching. It is a huge event – and when I talk to the young players in our squad, I will tell them, that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. They must enjoy the experience but also give everything they have – because it may never happen to them again.”
FE: Going into the World Cup as the leader of your country, what are your personal objectives for a successful campaign?
SK: “I am incredibly proud of being the captain of Denmark at the World Cup. It was a personal highlight and a huge honour for me to receive the armband in the first case – and then to lead the boys and my nation through the qualification. I can’t wait to get started in Russia, because we want to achieve something great together.”
FE: You made your Denmark debut in 2009, you were 20 at the time. What did this mean to you?
SK: “It was amazing to be a part of my national team in that early age – and I am happy to have been in the line-up ever since. It will always make me proud to play for my country.”
FE: Which country are the main favourites in Russia? And who will be seen as the dark horse?
SK: “I have mostly focused on our own group, and France are not only favourites in our group, but also have the potential to be one of the title favourites. Obviously Spain is also up there with so much top quality in the squad – and don’t forget Brazil.”
“I am incredibly proud of being the captain of Denmark at the World Cup. It was a personal highlight and a huge honour for me to receive the armband in the first case…”
FE: Have you got a memorable moment of Denmark at a World Cup tournament?
SK: “I was only a little boy during the World Cup in France in 1998, but one moment will always stay with me, when Denmark beat Nigeria to qualify for the quarter-finals. Michael Laudrup with all the vision in the world freezing time; looking one way and chipping the ball in another direction to Ebbe Sand, controlling the ball perfectly before striking it in the net. Pure footballing beauty – breathtaking and completely an unforgettable moment for a football mad kid like me.”
FE: You were at South Africa 2010. What was it like playing in your first World Cup?
SK: “Playing at a World Cup is a personal highlight. It is what all children dream of, when they kick the ball in a street, a garden or in school. Now at 29, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of two final tournaments already, now facing the third and hopefully with more to come in my career after this. When I compare the World Cup in South Africa to the Euros in Ukraine and Poland, I just have to say, that there is nothing like the World Cup.”
FE: What do you think of Denmark’s group – are there any teams that could be tough to play against?
SK: “They will all be tough. When you look at the FIFA ranking, we have three teams in top 12 right now, and that shows really high quality. The FIFA ranking doesn’t tell the full story, but it tells us, that these teams including ourselves win a lot of matches since we all have these high positions in the list.”
FE: The 2018 World Cup will be the fourth time that Denmark have entered the competition over the last 20 years. What is this feeling like with the other teammates in the dressing room?
SK: “We feel like children before Christmas. We can’t wait to get started.”
FE: You will be entering the 2018 World Cup as a player who is in his prime. Do you think it is possible that in four years’ time you could play in Qatar, for a potential third World Cup?
SK: “You never know in football – but I still have a lot of ambitions with my club and my country.”