Danish prodigy Simon Kjaer is relishing the chance to make his debut on the world's biggest stage. "The World Cup will be a great experience for me," he says. "I dreamt about playing in one as a kid. We've ended up in a tough group, but I'm sure that we will make it through to the knock-out stage."
The promising central defender, who plies his trade with Italian Serie A outfit Palermo, has been tipped by some as a potential challenger for the HYUNDAI "Best Young Player" award.
Kjaer made his international debut in 2009 when the Danes were wracked with injuries. Coach Morten Olsen found himself short of defenders ahead of the crucial qualifiers against Sweden and Portugal, and created quite a stir when he called up the hitherto little-known Kjaer to the squad.
The 21-year-old put in excellent performances against such stars as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo and was a key figure in the 1-0 win over Sweden and 1-1 draw with Portugal. "That was a dream start," says Kjaer, looking back with a smile.
The youngster, who can also play in midfield, is close to becoming a fixture in the starting eleven, with fans and team-mates fulsome in their praise of him. In 2009, he was even chosen as Denmark's footballer of the year. "I always dreamed about winning this honour, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that at the age of 20 my name would be on the list alongside such famous people as Peter Schmeichel or the Laudrup brothers," says Kjaer. "It's the most prestigious award there is in Denmark. I am unbelievably proud and happy. I now have the confidence and also the belief that I have so much more still to achieve in football."
Kjaer will be looking to take another step up the career ladder in South Africa, and some good performances could also help Denmark make it out of a tough Group E alongside The Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon and into the last 16. And that should be enough to have the top clubs knocking at Kjaer's door...