On 4 June 1986, Denmark made their first appearance in the World Cup, joining Scotland, Uruguay, and West Germany in the tournament's "Group of Death."
Two years earlier, the Danes had impressed the international footballing community by advancing to the European Championship semifinals where they narrowly lost to Spain on penalty kicks, 1-1 (5-4). Still, they were considered to many to be underdogs of their World Cup group, which included two-time champions West Germany (1954, 1974) and Uruguay (1930, 1950), as well as Scotland, who were making their fourth consecutive appearance--and sixth overall--in the tournament.
But Denmark proved to be the surprise of the tournament, opening their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Scotland (who, in fairness, were still reeling over the death of their previous manager, Jock Stein, from a heart attack the previous December). The only goal came in the 57th minute, as striker Preben Elkjær received the ball on the left edge of the box, beat a defender, and rifled the ball past keeper Jim Leighton. It struck the far post and rebounded into the net.
It was a redemptive goal for Elkjær, who missed penalty in the Euro '84 shootout gave Spain the win. He followed it with a hat-trick in Denmark's next match, a 6-1 demolition of Uruguay. Denmark went on to win the group with a 2-0 win over West Germany and advanced to the Round of 16. There, their good fortune ended, as they faced their old enemy Spain and lost 5-1.