MOSCOW — When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys.
Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute and Croatia shocked England, rallying for 2-1 victory Wednesday.
Defender Sime Vrsaljko kept the score even in extra time by heading a shot off the goal line about 10 minutes before Mandzukic scored for Croatia, which is the first team in 28 years to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match.
‘‘Mentally strong team,’’ midfielder Ivan Rakatic said. ‘‘It’s just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way.’’
The Croats will play France for the title on Sunday in its biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.
France, which won its only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium, 1-0, on Tuesday.
Croatia’s legs at the start seemed to carry the weight of three straight extra-time matches, and a pressing England went up quickly. Kevin Trippier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute.
But Croatia found energy after the break when the game opened up, making England’s missed first-half opportunities seem all-the-more significant.
Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute with his fourth goal of the tournament.
Four minutes later, Perisic hit goaltender Jordan Pickford’s near post.
Mandzukic scored after Kyle Walker stuck out a leg to block Josip Pivaric’s cross. The ball popped up and Perisic outjumped Tripper to head the ball behind the defense.
Mandzukic alertly reacted, splitting defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire. The ball bounced twice, Mandzukic ran onto it and one-timed a low, left-footed shot.