Jozy Altidore, left, of the U.S. vies with Simon Kjaer of Denmark during their friendly football match on Nov. 18, 2009. ((Claus Fisker/AFP/Getty Images))

Simon Kjaer 

Born: March 26, 1989 in Horsens, Denmark   

Position: Defender

Clubs played for: Danish side FC Midtjylland groomed Simon Kjaer from 2007 to 2008 before accepting a $5-million US fee from Palermo for the hulking centre back. Kjaer has played nearly every league game in two seasons since he arrived at Stadio Renzo Barbera.   

International career: Although he is only 21 years old, Kjaer has already been named Danish Footballer of the Year (2009) and has earned a spot in the middle of Denmark’s defence. He made his senior international debut in February 2009 and has made eight appearances since.   

Why is he so special? Not to belabour the point, but for one so young, Kjaer displays the strength, balance and patience many defenders don’t acquire until later in their careers. Kjaer’s consistency throughout this season not only helped Denmark reach South Africa, but is also one of the reasons Palermo is in contention for a spot in a European competition next season.    

His most famous moment: During his first few caps for Denmark, Kjaer was assigned with shadowing Sweden’s star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic when Denmark faced its Scandinavian rivals in World Cup qualifying. Denmark won both matches 1-0, and on both occasions, Kjaer frustrated Ibrahimovic, barring him from scoring.

He said it: "The World Cup will be an incredible experience for me. I’ve dreamed of playing in the competition since I was a boy. We have a tough group, but we’re confident we can reach the knockout phase."    

What they’re saying about him: "He’s very mentally strong. He knows exactly where he is for the moment, and he knows where he would like to be in a couple of years. That’s a great mentality to have as a professional." Morten Olsen, Denmark manager   

Here is an interesting fact: Several big clubs are interested in luring Kjær away from Palermo, including Manchester United. In October, England’s Daily Mail reported that Kjaer is a lifelong Liverpool fan, although that wouldn’t stop him from joining Liverpool’s archrivals: "If United just had two defenders whilst Liverpool had three, I would choose United without hesitation."