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Jakob Poulsen, second from right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the decisive goal that clinched a World Cup berth for Denmark. ((Fabian Bimmer/Associated Press))

Few people gave Denmark much of a chance of emerging from a World Cup qualifying group that included Portugal and Sweden. Even fewer thought the Danes would finish in first place.

Benny Feilhaber was not one of the doubters.

The hard-working Danish national team impressively topped their group, not only taking care of business against Malta and Albania, but also earning crucial victories against Portugal and Sweden, allowing them to clinch a World Cup berth with a game to spare.

Before the qualifiers even started, most critics predicted the Portuguese (with Cristiano Ronaldo) and the Swedes (boasting Zlatan Ibrahimovic) would fight it out for first place in the group. But the Danes defied the odds, losing only one of their 10 qualifying games to comfortably qualify for South Africa.

Work ethic, team unity and resolve

Feilhaber, a U.S. national team defender who plays professionally with Danish club AGF Aarhus, wasn't the least bit surprised, attributing the Danes' success to their work ethic, team unity and resolve.

"They have similar traits to [the U.S. national side] in that they have a very good team mentality. Every player on that team knows exactly what their job is and nobody tries to do too much," Feilhaber told CBCSports.ca.

"[Arsenal forward] Nicklas Bendtner creates scoring chances up top, and [midfielder] Christian Poulsen is a regular starter for Juventus, so they have a couple of stars, and players who do a good job within their defined roles."

Denmark's triumphant qualifying campaign was also built on the foundation of its ability to win crucial games on the road. The Danes upset the Portuguese in the second match of the qualifiers and then earned a 1-0 victory in Sweden last June that put them in the driver's seat of the group.

"One of the huge factors was them being able to win their games away from home and they were able to do that, even against the top teams. That's why they were able to do so well," Feilhaber stated.

Feilhaber isn't the only AGF Aarhus player bound for South Africa in June. Teammate and holding midfielder Jakob Poulsen established himself as a regular starter for the national team last year, having started in the last five World Cup qualifiers.

A technically proficient player with strong passing skills, Poulsen earned plaudits for his string of solid performances, and scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win against Sweden that clinched his country's first World Cup berth since 2002.

"He's been a fixture on the national team. ... He's going in the right direction with regards to having a starting spot on the World Cup," Feilhaber noted.

Potential U.S.-Denmark match

A potential semifinal match-up in South Africa between the Danes and Americans looms, a fact not lost on Feilhaber and Poulsen

"We get along really well so all the trash talking between us has been friendly," joked Feilhaber.

"I was really happy that they qualified and let Jakob know that I hope they do as well as possible in the World Cup. Obviously, he feels the same way about me."