Mario Mandzukic struck in extra-time as Croatia rallied 2-1 past England on Wednesday for a place in the World Cup final against 1998 winners France.
Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic in the 68th and Juventus striker Mandzukic in the 109th reversed England’s early lead from Kieran Trippier’s free-kick as the southern Europeans made the showcase match for the first time.
They lost their first semi-final to France in 1998, and now meet Les Bleus again on Sunday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for a revenge of sorts and in search of the biggest moment in the nation’s short football history.
France, who beat Belgium 1-0 in the first semi Tuesday, are in a third final, winning 3-0 against Brazil in 1998 and losing on penalties against Italy in 2006.
The 1966 champions England lost in the last four as in 1990 as their strong run in Russia finally came to an end. They meet Belgium in Saturday’s third-place play-off in St Petersburg.
Croatia, which was part of Yugoslavia 28 years ago and not an independent state, overcame exhaustion from two previous penalty shoot-out wins to prevail.
England manager Gareth Southgate left his line-up unchanged from the last game against Sweden while Zlatko Dalic returned to the 11 from the round of 16 match against Denmark, midfielder Marcelo Brozovic back in place of forward Andrej Kramaric who had started against Russia.
And England got a dream start thanks to a 5th minute free-kick, awarded after Dele Alli was brought down after a nice flick-on by Jesse Lingard, which Trippier curled over the wall and into the top right corner from some 20 metres.
It was Trippier’s first England goal and the team’s ninth goal from a set piece in Russia, of their 12 overall, a record since official statistics started in 1966.
Croatia looked a bit rattled as England continued to attack and Harry Maguire headed wide right off a corner-kick.
Captain Harry Kane then missed a golden double chance for 2-0 on the half-hour mark, taking up a through-ball but denied by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic from point-blank range, and then by the near post on the rebound from a tight left angle.
Seven minutes later Lingard miscued completely unmarked from the edge of the area. Some very sloppy defending then almost gave Ivan Rakitic a chance completely out of the blue on the stroke of half-time, but he was blocked at the last instance.
Led by Luka Modric, Croatia stepped up their efforts after the break.
Perisic’s blocked effort was a warning for England, and they were then level at 1-1 in the 68th, Perisic somehow beating Kyle Walker to flick home a cross from Sime Vrsaljko just as the defender waited to head it away.
England were shocked and Perisic hit the right post four minutes later on as Croatia found some new energy and once again headed into extra-time.
Vrsaljko nodded John Stones’ header off the goalline in the 98th but the winner came three minutes later at the other end when Perisic headed a clearance towards goal and Mandzukic beat Stones for the ball to slot past Pickford into the far right corner.
Croatia then hung on against England who finished with 10 men when Trippier limped off and all substitutions had been made.