Football: Kjeldbjerg defends Danes: Phil Shaw finds the England-based members of the Denmark team have a point to prove

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The Independent Online
LESS than 12 months ago, Jakob Kjeldbjerg was studying to be a lawyer and playing part-time for Silkeborg, an unfashionable team from a small town on the west coast of Jutland. Tonight, at Wembley, his football education continues when Denmark's impressive defensive credentials are examined by England.

The 24-year-old centre-back, who became one of Glenn Hoddle's first buys for Chelsea in a pounds 350,000 deal last summer, was part of a Danish rearguard which conceded only two goals in 12 qualifying matches during an ultimately unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign. Yet even with his burgeoning Premiership pedigree, Kjeldbjerg will be taking a step into the unknown in this evening's friendly.

'I haven't played against Alan Shearer yet, though I have faced Peter Beardsley, who's a very clever player,' he said in the kind of near-perfect English with which foreign sportsmen invariably embarrass monolingual reporters. 'But even before I came to this country I watched a lot of English football on TV, so I have a great deal of respect for the England strikers.'

Like Peter Schmeichel, whose massive presence will be behind him again after last Saturday's Old Trafford confrontation, and Arsenal's John Jensen, Kjeldbjerg has adapted well to the rigours of English football. 'This was always the place I wanted to come because the physical nature of the game here suits my style.

'I've enjoyed myself from the start at Chelsea - the staff and supporters have gone out of their way to help me settle. The big differences are the pace of the game and the huge crowds. At Silkeborg, our average crowd was 3,000 - at Wembley it could be 75,000.'

The Danes bristle at the idea that the game is a meeting of failures. Kjeldbjerg, who is set to win his 12th cap, points out that the European champions lost just once in their World Cup group - 1-0 to Spain in the final match - and would have qualified for the United States had they scored one more goal.

Since their unexpected triumph in Sweden in 1992, the coach, Richard Moller Nielsen, has begun reshaping the team. Kjeldbjerg and Marc Rieper - a target for Newcastle recently - have replaced Kent Nielsen and Torben Piechnik as the defensive markers.

The Anglo-Danes have left their colleagues in no doubt about the importance the English are attaching to Terry Venables' first game. 'Wembley will be full and it's a big start for the manager,' Kjeldbjerg said. 'However, it's also vital for us to show our coach he can count on us.'

Schmeichel, meanwhile, offered a revealing insight into how his United team-mates viewed the media's role in Graham Taylor's demise. 'If I'd been an England player in the last two years I'd be a nervous wreck by now,' he said. 'One mistake and I'd be branded a vegetable.

'But with the players Terry Venables has picked, if they'd got to the World Cup, they'd have reached the semi-finals at least.'

Heartening words, and Moller Nielsen had more, recalling that his own reign had opened four years ago with defeat at Wembley by a Gary Lineker goal. Two years later - 'and with the whole of Denmark behind us', he added pointedly - they had won the European Championship on which Venables has set his sights for '96.

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