By Robin Bairner
Denmark centre-back Simon Kjaer has admitted that Italy striker Mario Balotelli has the potential to ruin his side’s World Cup 2014 hopes.
The Danes presently lie third in Uefa qualifying Group B but are only a point behind Bulgaria, with the Azzurri already qualified for Brazil in the summer.
Morten Olsen’s side are aiming for maximum points from their remaining two fixtures to optimise their chances of reaching the play-offs, yet Kjaer has explained Balotelli has the potential to wreck their dreams.
“Balotelli is truly a top-class player,” he told Goal. “I must admit, that I really like his style and his skills - he is a fantastic striker. He has many critics, who claim that he has too much belief in himself, but to me it shows great character and self-confidence that he bounces back from setbacks every time and returns as a better player. That shows a lot about his great strength as a person.
“His self-confidence also means that even if he has had a terrible game for 80 minutes then it doesn’t affect him and he can suddenly pop up with a magnificent goal or two to decide a game out of nothing. As a defender you can never leave him out of sight.”
Having played previously in Serie A, Kjaer has confessed this is a particularly unique match for him.
“The Italy game is special to me because I had some great years in Italy playing for Palermo and Roma, and I know a lot of the Italian players very well,” the Lille star said. “The game is extremely important to Denmark and our World Cup hopes, because we can’t afford to lose.”
Although Denmark’s place in Brazil remains in doubt, Kjaer has tipped Italy to be successful next summer.
“The national team of Italy is one of the best in the world and they showed that last year by reaching the final of Euro 2012,” the 24-year-old explained. “They have great quality as individual players and as a team - and I believe they will be even better at the World Cup in Brazil.
“It’s great for my Italian friends that they have qualified for the World Cup, but I really hope that Denmark can join them.
“I have played in the national team since I was 20 and I have played both the World Cup in South Africa and the European Championship in Ukraine and Poland last year, so it is difficult for me to imagine not being a part of the World Cup next year.”
Kjaer has made a tremendous start to the season in Ligue 1 as his Lille side have kept seven clean-sheets in nine outings and he will be hoping to maintain that kind of solid form for his country over the course of a vital week.
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