London, Nov 22: England's hopes of a place in the Euro 2008 finals disappeared at Wembley on Wednesday when they lost 3-2 to Croatia after fighting back from conceding two early goals to pull level at 2-2.
Instead of hanging on to the point that would have secured their place in Austria and Switzerland, they conceded a third goal 13 minutes from time, allowing Russia to steal into second place in Group E and qualify with Croatia yesterday.
It will be the first time since 1984 that England miss out on the European Championship finals and the first time since the 1994 World Cup that they have failed to qualify for a major tournament -- putting the future of coach Steve McClaren in doubt.
Former England captain David Beckham, a second-half substitute, said: ''This is a big setback, not just for the players but the nation...We have to show the English way which is to fight back.'' Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said: ''We are simply a much better team, tonight we were the better team.'' The home crowd was stunned after eight minutes when Scott Carson, controversially chosen in goal after making his debut in a friendly only last week, allowed a speculative shot by Niko Kranjcar to skid off him and into the net, and it looked all over when Ivica Olic doubled the lead six minutes later.
England pulled level with a 56th-minute Frank Lampard penalty followed by a great goal by striker Peter Crouch, who expertly controlled a cross from halftime substitute Beckham before volleying the equaliser.
Croatia, though, continued to look dangerous and won it in the 77th-minute when substitute Mladen Petric lashed in a shot from the edge of the box.
The Croatians will be among the second seeds when the draw for the finals is made in Lucerne, Switzerland on December 2.
Kranjcar put Croatia ahead with a curling, right-footed shot from 25 metres which Carson should have saved. The ball bounced just in front of the awkwardly-positioned keeper on the slippery surface, hit his chest and bounced past him high into the back of the net.
In a Croatia counter-attack six minutes later Eduardo da Silva broke in space on the right from the halfway line and his clever through ball found Olic, who beat the offside trap, rounded Carson and stroked the ball into the empty net.
England started the game in their usual high-tempo fashion in a 4-5-1 formation with Peter Crouch as the lone striker.
As the game developed on the slippery, rain-lashed surface, Croatia looked totally in control with England's passing going astray in midfield and Crouch's headed knock-downs failing to produce meaningful attempts from any of the advancing midfielders.
England, though, clawed their way back with two goals in nine minutes midway through the second half. Beckham, winning his 99th cap, and striker Jermain Defoe came on at halftime and each had a hand in the goals.
Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt ruled that Josip Simunic had fouled Defoe after 56 minutes and awarded a penalty against the defender which Lampard converted.
Beckham then created the equaliser with a perfect, trademark cross from the right which Crouch chested down before volleying wide of keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Instead of allowing England to settle for a draw, Croatia pressed for a winner and Petric delivered, his low, angled left-footed drive flying past Carson and inside the far post.