Simon Kjaer has underlined the importance of reaching the 2018 World Cup for Denmark.
The national team captain has been linked with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in recent weeks, while rumours have also hinted at interest from Inter, Milan, Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain. Nevertheless, he is fully concentrated on Sunday’s match with Romania.
“We must go to the World Cup this time after missing out in 2014,” he told Goal while with the Danish squad.
“I have played for my country at both the World Cup in South Africa and the Euros in Ukraine and Poland, and it is something that I can’t bear to miss out on again. Honestly, I haven’t even been watching the tournaments without us - it is too hard to sit on the couch at home instead of being there as a player.”
Denmark find themselves third in Group E, trailing Poland and Montenegro, and the centre-back is aware there is little room for error in a tough pool.
“We haven’t had the perfect start in the group, but our ambitions have not changed at all: we want to be at the World Cup in Russia. We are in a very competitive and equal group - and all the teams can steal points from each other. Just look at the leading team in our group, Poland, who lost points against the bottom team, Kazakhstan,” he said.
“We are a new team with a new manager and a new tactical system - and with a lot of young players coming more or less directly from the Under-21 team, so obviously we will progress a lot as a team the more matches we play together.
“We only have three players with more than 30 internationals, but there is a lot of potential in this squad and we have big ambitions.
“That is also an important reason why we simply have to qualify for Russia: this new young national team need experience because some of the young players don’t have that many international – or even club – matches under their belts.
“When you play in a big tournament, that brings a lot to the squad in terms of experience. At 27, I am one of the most experienced players in the squad, and that feels a bid odd to me to be honest since I am only just entering what is normally the best years in a player’s career.”
Despite losing two of their opening four games, Kjaer believes his side have been playing quite well.
“I never accept defeat, but losing 3-2 away against Poland was not a disaster - just look at their results last summer at the Euros,” he said.
“Right now, we are ‘below budget’ regarding the number of points we have in our group because we lost the home game against Montenegro. We shouldn't have lost that game for sure. It was the sort of game where you win nine out of 10 times with the number of chances we created and the possession we had.
“That result put us under a bit of extra pressure, but if we beat Romania the group offers all sorts of options for us again.”
Personally, the former Roma and Lille star believes he is well suited to leading his nation.
“I am proud to be the captain of my country’s national team and I enjoy it. I even believe that I grow as a person and a player from the extra responsibilities that comes with the armband,” he said. “I have played more than 300 hundred matches with clubs in some of the best leagues, and on the pitch I do feel my experience helps me both in my own performance and to help the younger players.
“At Fenerbahce, I have also been named one of the club captains, and I thrive in my role as a leader.”