Tuesday 24 April 2018, 13:50

Bjelland makes his case for the Danish defence

  • Andreas Bjelland heading to World Cup eight years after Denmark debut

  • Plays in England’s second tier for Brentford

  • Had vital role in Denmark’s road to Russia

Andreas Bjelland’s personal path to the FIFA World Cup™ mirrors that of his nation. The defender made his international debut four months after Denmark’s most recent World Cup game, their defeat against Japan at South Africa 2010, and has played a key role in securing his country’s return to the global stage after an eight-year absence.

“It’s been a long journey,” Bjelland told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I started off by getting a call-up from the U-21s. There was an injury and I started the senior side’s game [against the Czech Republic]. It was a big moment. I went to the Euros in 2012 and didn’t play, but hopefully that’ll change at the World Cup. I’m going there to get some minutes.”

He played all 180 minutes of the Danes’ crucial qualifying play-off double-header against the Republic of Ireland. A terse goalless draw in the first leg in Copenhagen set up a mammoth task in the return match for Hareide’s men in Dublin. When recalling the games, Bjelland exudes the confidence that saw his side recover from a tough position.

“We were hoping for them to move the bus they parked in front of the goal [in Copenhagen] when they played at home,” Bjelland said. “They did that when they scored the first goal, and we were a little bit taken aback. People were talking a lot about them having more passion than the Danish players. That just wasn’t true. If you don’t believe and don’t have the passion to go to the World Cup, you may as well stop playing.”

“Even though they scored first, I felt like we were going to score, with the quality we have. I didn’t think it was going to be 5-1 though. That was just an unbelievable feeling.”

The quality Bjelland alludes to is displayed by star man Christian Eriksen, whose second-leg hat-trick helped the Danes to their famous victory. Bjelland sees he and Kasper Schmeichel as Denmark’s leading lights.

“[Eriksen] has only just turned 26 so he’s still young and can get even better," Bjelland said. "He’s going to be crucial for how we will get on in the World Cup. Schmeichel is the best goalkeeper we have in Denmark. He’s a leader, one of the senior players in a young squad. His distribution is also really good, which we need with the style of play we have.”

Since the retirement of former star Daniel Agger, a spot has opened up alongside new captain Simon Kjaer in the Danish defence. Bjelland may line up in England’s second tier for Brentford, but he’s battled off strong competition from players in higher divisions to regularly turn out for Age Hareide’s side.

"Jannik Vestergaard, Andreas Christensen and Mathias Jorgensen are playing in big leagues, and play every weekend,” Bjelland said. “It’s tough competition, but it keeps you sharp and you know if you don’t do everything right, somebody could take your position.”

The expectation levels from the nation will also likely keep Bjelland and his teammates on their toes. De Rod-Hvide fans yearn for a return to the vibrant style of the fabled 1986 Danish Dynamite side, or the trophy-winning capability of the UEFA EURO 1992 champions.

“It’s a common question: ‘are you going to do what they did back in 1992?’”, Bjelland smiled. “I think the game has changed a little bit, so it’s difficult to compare. Even though we’re competing with big international teams, we have our dreams and with the squad we have anything can happen.”

Denmark’s Russia 2018 Group C opponents

Peru, 16 June, Saransk “To potentially make my World Cup debut would be massive. Now you start to look forward to it and hopefully start that first game. That would be huge for me, one of the biggest things in my career so far.”

Australia, 21 June, Samara “It would be great to score against them again! (Editor’s note: Bjelland scored his first international goal against the Socceroos in 2012). To be honest, I don’t really care who scores as long as we win.”

France, 26 June, Moscow (Luzhniki Stadium) “They could play with three out of six world class players up front so it’s always difficult. If we’ve done it right, we’ll already be through with six points when we meet them. We’ve got to approach the game like any other though, do it our way. It’s up to us to not be afraid of them.”