SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) _ France ended Croatia's historic World Cup journey Wednesday and made some history itself. For the first time, it will play for the championship of the tournament it invented almost 70 years ago.

A pair of second-half goals by defender Lilian Thuram gave the French a 2-1 semifinal victory before a cheering, chanting crowd at the national stadium just north of Paris.

It didn't come easy.

Following a scoreless first half, France found itself behind just 26 seconds after intermission, and _ after rallying for the lead _ had to play the last 17 minutes a man short when defender Laurent Blanc was ejected for shoving an opponent in the face.

The victory was not assured until goalie Fabien Barthez tipped a last-gasp shot over the crossbar less than 30 seconds before the final whistle.

Croatia is a country just 8 years old and in its first World Cup. No other rookie had gone so far since Italy won the soccer championship in 1934.

That was the second of the 16 editions of what has become the biggest single sports event on earth, the brainchild of French sports officials in the Roaring '20s. Never before in nine tries had France made it past the semifinals.

But now it will return to the Stade de France on Sunday night to face Brazil for the title.

The Brazilians, trying to extend their record of four championships, beat the Netherlands in a shootout Tuesday in Marseille.