Croatia overcame a slow start on Wednesday to come from behind and beat England 2-1 after extra time to advance to the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The 1998 semi-finalists, who lost to hosts France then, were stoic in defending and patient in attacking to go on and beat England for their first final match appearance.
At the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, before a crowd of 78,011 which had many English fans, England started well and looked likely to maul Croatia.
Tottenham Hotspur defender, Kieran Trippier, lifted a free kick just outside the penalty box arc over the defensive wall into the net five minutes into the match to enliven the game.
The goal lifted the match which was gradually building up into something akin to a “Sunday kick-about”.
But, with England establishing command and keeping the Croats constantly on the back foot, many would have started thinking of a “goal-fest’’.
Jordan Hendersson, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli kept Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane busy with good supply to torment the quartet of Sime Vrsaljko, Ivan Strinic, Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren.
Sterling in particular was a menace on the flanks, thanks to good flank play by full-backs Ashley Young and Kyle Walker.
Croatia on the other hand, could not piece their game together and looked only content with soaking the pressure in the face of a seeming impregnable England backline.
The second half saw Croatia moving the ball out faster with Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic taking charge in the midfield.
Mario Mandzukic and Ante Rebic failed to take advantage though, with John Stones, Harry Maguire and Walker menacingly cutting them off.
But Croatia got a break in the 68th minute as their doggedness was rewarded when Vrsaljko’s right flank pullout was jabbed home on the far side by Perisic.
It then looked as if it was the impetus Croatia needed as they pushed back England who had resorted to delay tactics to wind down the clock.
Croatia could have even taken the lead thereafter as England appeared jaded, but they were not creative and daring upfront.
Perisic could only hit the upright in the 71st minute, while goalkeeper Jordan Pickford kept England in the game with a couple of saves.
Marcus Rashford’s entry for Sterling in the 73rd minute did momentarily enliven England’s attack, but as Kane was near-anonymous in the game by then, they never looked likely to score.
In extra time, Croatia were in control, even though they rarely threatened and it was only John Stones’ fifth minute header that was headed away on the goal-line by Vrsaljko.
England had looked to break the deadlock by introducing Danny Rose and Eric Dier for tired Young and Henderson, but they could not just overcome the wall built by Croatia.
Five minutes into extra time’s second half, Mandzukic ran onto a back-header by Perisic on the left side of the goal area to knock past Pickford for the winning goal.
England were now in haste, looking desperate and bringing on Jamie Vardy as they were reduced to 10 men when injured Trippier limped off, but Croatia withstood all thrown at them.
They even looked likely to extend the lead off a couple of counter-attacks, and England could not stop their march into Sunday’s final against France at the same venue.
England, whose fans had been full of hopes of another title win since their lone win in 1966, will now head to St Petersburg to face Belgium in a third-place match on Saturday.