LONDON, England -- Croatia demolished England's dreams of a place in the Euro 2008 finals with a dramatic 3-2 triumph at Wembley that sent Russia through as Group E runners-up.
Croatia players celebrate their astonishing victory at Wembley which sent England crashing out.
England coach Steve McClaren saw his selection gamble backfire in a big way when rookie goalkeeper Scott Carson handed Croatia a crucial early goal.
And McClaren paid for the multi-million pound defeat with his job after England proved second best on the night in almost every department.
McLaren sent on David Beckham for his 99th cap along with Jermaine Defoe at the start of the second half and they briefly featured in a revival that saw England draw level.
At that point they were back on course for the finals with only a point required, but Croatia struck again -- and Russia confirmed their qualification with a slender 1-0 victory in Andorra.
Dmitri Sychev scored the all-important goal just before the break to give Guus Hiddink's side victory.
But the Russians survived a missed penalty from Denis Kolodin and the late sending-off of Andrei Arshavin to secure their ticket to the Alps.
There was an expectant atmosphere inside Wembley following the life-line thrown to England by Israel after their win over Russia on Saturday.
But all that changed after eight minutes when a glaring error by 22-year-old keeper Scott Carson handed Croatia the lead on a pitch left partly waterlogged by a torrential pre-match downpour.
Niko Kranjcar tried his luck on the unpredictable surface with a speculative 25-yard effort and Aston Villa's Carson allowed the dipping drive to bounce in front of him and skid into the net.
Carson was surprisingly thrown into the deep end by McClaren in place of regular keeper Paul Robinson having only made his debut in last Friday's friendly international in Austria.
The home fans were stunned by Carson's howler but England tried to retaliate in a positive manner.
Crouch set up a great chance Shaun Wright-Phillips but his angled drive from 10 yards was straight at keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
The wasted opportunity was put into sharp focus after 14 minutes when another breakaway saw Ivica Olic double Croatia's lead.
Eduardo da Silva made a weaving run to the edge of the England box and the Arsenal player timed his pass to perfection as Olic beat the offside trap.
He kept his cool and calmly rounded Carson before sidefooting the ball into the left-hand corner.
McClaren sat shell-shocked in his dug-out as England looked to be throwing away the life-line handed to them by Israel after their win over Russia -- and they left the field at half-time to a chorus of boos.
England's plight became more desperate with the news that Russia were leading in Andorra and McClaren made a double substitution, bringing on Beckham and Defoe. Wright-Phillips and Gareth Barry were the men replaced.
And Defoe was quickly into the thick of the action, earning England a penalty after 56 minutes when he had his shirt tugged by Simunic inside the box.
Lampard kept his cool and sent Pletikosa the wrong way as he steered his spot kick into the left hand corner to spark an unlikely comeback.
Croatia twice came close to regaining their two-goal advantage in the space of 60 seconds. First Bridge was relieved when his attempted clearance under pressure from Olic went over the head of Carson and clipped the top of the crossbar.
Then Carson partially atoned for his earlier error with a fine save from point-blank range to keep out a header from Olic. England were again fortunate when Olic got the better of Bridge but this time Carson was able to cling on to his low drive away to his right.
After 65 minutes, Wembley erupted when Crouch brought England back on level terms with his 14th goal for his country, superbly chesting down a superb cross from Beckham drilling past the keeper.
A draw was enough to put England through, but back came Croatia to cruelly smash their dreams with a long-range third goal from substitute Mladen Petric after 77 minutes, which Carson got a hand to but failed to keep out. E-mail to a friend
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