Denmark captain Simon Kjaer has braced himself for “two finals” in the World Cup playoffs against Ireland in what he has described as a “heaven-or-hell” scenario.
Since former Liverpool defender Dan Agger quit the national team, Kjaer has taken over its leader and is determined to help his nation to Russia 2018, having missed out on Brazil 2014.
Having had a taste of World Cup action in 2010, the most expensive defender in Sevilla’s history is eager to go back for more.
“It is like two finals where we are not playing for a trophy, but for a ticket to the World Cup,” he told Goal before departing for national team duty.
“It is really special with this knockout playoff set-up. It’s all decided in such a short time: heaven or hell?
“We have great expectations for ourselves, and now we need to get a good result in the ‘first half’ of this tie. But we know in Parken, we will have excellent support behind us.
“Everything is positive, and the atmosphere around this squad could not be better.
“We will give everything to get to the World Cup. We have missed out on the last two big tournaments, and I don’t want to spend another summer like that. I have already taken part of both the World Cup in South Africa and the European Championship in Ukraine and Poland.
“There is so much at stake in these playoffs, because both ourselves and the Irish players dream of representing our country on the biggest stage.”
Kjaer is aware of the threat that Ireland carry, having seen them impress at Euro 2016, where they were eliminated by France.
“The Irish players are extremely hardworking, well organised and, yes, simply a very difficult team to beat,” he said.
“Obviously they did well in their qualifying group - and they reached the knockout phase of the last Euro, so we know we’re up against a team of very good quality who deserve all our respect.”
He is confident, however, that Denmark, who have not suffered defeat since October 2016 can come through this challenge.
“When we started the qualification, we were a new and young team with a new coach, but we have grown a lot as a team since then, and we have not lost a game in more than a year,” he said. “Our confidence is at the maximum, and after one year of good progress we finished the group stage in great style.”