Kasper Hjulmand leaned into the microphone, arms folded on the press conference table in front of him, impassive, borderline serene. Then, softly and with little intonation, he explained that emotions in the Denmark camp are running “very, very high”.
“It is a World Cup,” he continued. “With football you can multiply your feelings by 10, and the fear of losing is very, very much involved. How can we best handle that? These considerations you have to make.”
These are considerations Hjulmand is making right now – or perhaps has made already, in the days since Saturday’s 2-1 loss to leaders France left his team contemplating an imminent exit from a group they were anticipated to roll through with no fuss.
On pre-tournament form, which included two Nations League wins over Didier Deschamps’ World Cup holders, they might have even advanced in top spot. Now a place in the last 16 requires at the very least a win on Wednesday over Australia, the 38th-ranked nation sitting above them in second, and also a prayer that Tunisia do not simultaneously upset already-qualified France.
“Of course there’s pressure,” he says. “But we are very solid and a very good group. We are never alone – we do things together. We win, we lose, we fight … but we are together. I think the best way is to focus on what we have to do is prepare just like normal. These players are very, very used to big games.”
Hjulmand, in his half-hour media conference on Tuesday, expressed the whole gamut of emotions, all in that dispassionate voice – the sound of stability amid the uncertainty. One minute he is discussing the pressure of an expectant nation barely 18 months after they almost went all the way at Euro 2020, and the next “solving a football-related task” against an Australian side he expects to “attack and run at us”.
“It will be a surprise for me if that doesn’t happen,” he continued. “Like all football games, there will be times where we have to [solve a task], to break down a very strong defensive unit.”
Despite his even temperament Hjulmand is surely not unaffected by the wobble in Qatar, the place of Christian Eriksen’s second coming which quickly morphed into a tit-for-tat over human rights statements and a scoreless draw with unheralded Tunisia.
But he does not bite on a question about the OneLove armbands fiasco he had lamented only a week ago was a distraction. “We’re focused and we are ready,” he simply said. “Right now we are totally focused on this, we don’t have any other thoughts.”
From a personnel perspective, Hjulmand declared no fitness concerns but also revealed nothing in terms of lineup or tactical approach, apart from the fact Jesper Lindstrøm sat next to him.
Instead he spoke about the collective. “The more experience you have of these kinds of events, from maybe feeling the pressure, [the more] you feel pride,” he said. “It is a dream since you were a kid and now you are actually in a position where you can go out and play football for something. It is privilege.”