The omens were not on the side of Denmark when they welcomed USSR to the Idraetsparken national stadium one June afternoon in 1985. They had lost each of their eight previous meetings with the Soviets - conceding 30 goals along the way - but those statistics were not going to scare a side intent on writing a new chapter in their history.
Twelve months earlier, Sepp Piontek's team had reached the semi-finals in their maiden appearance at the UEFA European Championship - missing out on the final only after a penalty shoot-out defeat by Spain - and now their sights were set on a first FIFA World Cup finals.
5 June 1985, Idraetsparken, Copenhagen
Denmark 4-2 USSR
Scorers: Elkjaer 16, 19, Laudrup 61, 64 (Denmark); Protasov 26, Gotsmanov 68 (USSR)
Denmark: Qvist, Busk, Nielsen, Morten Olsen, Arnesen (Henrik Andersen 78), Berggreen, Bertelsen, Laudrup, Lerby, Jesper Olsen (Frimann 46), Elkjaer.
USSR: Dasaev, Sulakvelidze, Pozdnyakov, Demyanenko, Baltacha, Aleinikov, Gotsmanov, Litovchenko (Zygmantovich 23), Gavrilov, Protasov, Belanov (Kondratyev 70).
Denmark and the Soviet Union entered the match playing catch-up with their rivals in Group 6. Both teams had played two games fewer than the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, who - this being the era of two points per win - led the section with five points apiece. Yet the Danes, with four points from their three fixtures played, knew a victory would put them top and in firm command of their destiny. That was always likely to prove easier said than done against opponents a point worse off but eager to start imposing their pedigree on the teams around them.
Denmark shot out of the starting blocks, swiftly seizing a two-goal advantage. With Bayern Munich midfielder Soren Lerby making the play, there were early opportunities for midfielder Jens Jorn Bertelsen and full-back Klaus Berggreen even before Preben Elkjaer's breakthrough goal after 17 minutes. The build-up typified the Danes' free-flowing style, six red shirts speeding the ball from their own penalty box to the edge of the Soviets'. If a touch of fortune ensured that Laudrup's miscued final pass reached Elkjaer, nobody in the 45,000 crowd was complaining as the Denmark No10 shot low past Dasaev.
Two minutes later, the same player doubled the Danes' advantage. Receiving the ball with his back to goal, he turned in a flash before muscling past his marker and firing under the goalkeeper and into the far corner. On this form, it was little wonder Elkjaer finished the qualifying campaign with eight goals in as many games. Yet the Soviets had too much quality to simply roll over and soon narrowed the deficit via a superb strike from Oleh Protasov, whose rising shot flew past Ole Qvist from the edge of the area. Only the woodwork denied Sergei Gotsmanov an equaliser but the action then swung back to the other end where Dasaev showed his quality with stops from Lerby and Berglund.
The football continued to flow in a second half where Laudrup made sure of Denmark's victory. The 20-year-old had recorded only one goal all season on loan at a relegated Lazio side but here he showed why Juventus had moved to sign him as a teenager. First Elkjaer dispossessed a defender and Laudrup took the ball on, cut inside the last white shirt and shot high past Dasaev. Next he carried the ball from the halfway line and, as the USSR defenders backed off, drove into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box.
The red-and-white Roligans - 'rolig' is Danish for quiet and their friendly manner contrasted markedly with hooligan problems elsewhere at the time - were now chanting ‘Mexico', but Soviet heads did not drop altogether. Gotsmanov volleyed an acrobatic second goal and Berggreen cleared another effort off the line - a sign of the threat that would earn the USSR a 1-0 win when the teams met in Moscow in their return qualifier.
Elkjaer was a player at the height of his powers, having just helped Verona claim their first Serie A title in Italy. His aggressive running and predatory instincts overwhelmed the Soviet defence here and, combined with the dribbling skills of Laudrup, gave the Denmark attack a formidable edge at the FIFA World Cup the following summer - when Elkjaer claimed four goals.
"Those were fantastic years for Danish football. The Denmark team had players from top clubs in Europe and they were important players in their teams. The coach Pontiek came with a lot of German discipline but also knowing he had Danish players - they also need some of their own responsibility and he found a good balance between discipline and freedom. Maybe we had lost some games in the past because of the lack of discipline but we couldn't play as a German team, we had to play as Danes. He knew that and that was very, very clever," Morten Olsen, Denmark's then captain and current coach.
What happened next...
Denmark advanced to the 1986 finals as group winners and duly topped their first-round section in Mexico, beating West Germany, Scotland and Uruguay. Although their bandwagon derailed in equally explosive fashion in the next round, with a 5-1 loss to Spain, Piontek's 'Danish dynamite' team had made their mark on the world stage. The Soviet Union qualified for Mexico in second place but took a notable detour en route, replacing coach Eduard Malofeev with Valeriy Lobanovskiy. Hence an influx of players from his club Dynamo Kiev - and the fact only six players on show in Copenhagen made it to the finals. Yet like the Danes they performed impressively, hitting Hungary for six and progressing as group winners before coming unstuck in a seven-goal thriller against Belgium.