But Zlatko Dalić's side equalised in the 68th minute through Ivan Perisic and bossed the game from then on, before Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic popped up with the victor in the second half of extra time to send Croatia into their first ever World Cup final.
As England stalled it was Croatia who produced the powerful late surge to win through goals from Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic, showing strength nearly beyond reason given their World Cup exertions. Surely their youth and the extra rest would pay off at some point during 30 additional minutes. And it nearly happened early in the extra session when John Stones rose to meet a corner kick, only for Vrsaljko to clear the goal-bound header off the line.
Matt Reece, 25, who works in marketing, said England had far outperformed the low expectations of them when the tournament began.
The team's unexpected advance through the competition has coincided with weeks of uninterrupted sunshine across the country - equally rare in rain-sodden England.
Modric, along with Mario Mandzukic, are the 32-year-olds who have propelled Croatia to its first major soccer final. For England, the end still felt premature. In big games it's small margins.
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"But regardless of that, I think the football across the board has been really exciting, really entertaining, and the hosting of the tournament and the cities that have hosted it has been outstanding".
First, look at the team.
Southgate leads a group of players whose conduct has won so many admirers here as England made their way to the last four. These Lions have more technical ability and less ego than any English team in memory, and that includes the side that lost a semi on penalties to West Germany in 1990.
"We might have the chance for the revenge in the finals with the French", Plenkovic said.
Never mind Maguire's towering header against Sweden and the quite wonderful free-kick from Trippier in this semi-final.
Harry Kane of England celebrates victory following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Colombia and England at Spartak Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.