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French find recipe for success

France has added a winning tradition to its long history at the vanguard of the world game.

France celebrate winning UEFA EURO 2000
France celebrate winning UEFA EURO 2000 ©Getty Images

Although football made its debut in France in 1872 with the founding of the Havre Athletic Club, the first proper competition took place as late as 1894, organised by the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques.

In the early years of the 20th century several multi-sport federations shared the task of arranging football events. However, it was not until 1904 – after FIFA had been established in Paris – that a French national team first took to the field for a 3-3 draw against Belgium.

In 1906 the Comité Français Interfédéral (CFI) became the first body devoted exclusively to the game. The CFI oversaw a Trophée de France which brought together the football champions of the various multi-sport federations. A further milestone was reached in 1917 as the Coupe de France, now the country's longest-running soccer tournament, was launched to herald a new era. The Fédération Française de Football Association (FFFA) was formed two years later.

The game grew quickly thereafter. In 1930 a France team participated in the first edition of the FIFA World Cup – an event that owed its existence to the efforts of Frenchmen Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay. Professionalism was introduced in 1932. France was again in the vanguard in 1954 when it came to creating UEFA and its flagship competitions – the European Champion Clubs' Cup (1955/56) and the UEFA European Championship/Henri Delaunay Cup (1958–60). At the World Cup in 1958, Les Bleus claimed a very respectable third place as Just Fontaine top-scored with 13 goals, still a finals record.

Where the league championship and the French Cup drew ever-increasing crowds, the national team failed to catch the eye after those exploits in Sweden. However, the side's eventual renaissance, under the direction of star player Michel Platini in the early 1980s, was well worth the wait. The breakthrough came in 1984 with France's first international title at the UEFA European Championship. That success was prefaced by a fourth-place finish at the 1982 World Cup and confirmed by third place in Mexico in 1986. These achievements also inspired the nation's clubs: Olympique de Marseille won the UEFA Champions League in 1993, before Paris Saint-Germain FC lifted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup three years later.

In 1998, 60 years after hosting the third edition of the World Cup, France again organised the global game's flagship event. Coached by Aimé Jacquet, Les Bleus were well prepared for this historic opportunity and carried off the country's maiden world title, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final with the help of two headers from talisman Zinédine Zidane. Then in 2000, under Roger Lemerre, France landed a second European crown, before adding the FIFA Confederations Cup to the honours' list in both 2001 and 2003.

While the 2002 World Cup brought disappointment as the holders were eliminated in the group stage, the team bounced back under Jacques Santini with a dominant showing in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying before falling to ultimate victors Greece in the quarter-finals. Raymond Domenech subsequently took command and France produced a fine 2006 World Cup campaign, culminating in a shoot-out defeat by Italy in the final. If their UEFA EURO 2008 and 2010 World Cup challenges both proved short-lived, Les Bleus managed to reach the quarter-finals of both UEFA EURO 2012, where they were undone by eventual winners Spain, and the 2014 World Cup, champions-elect Germany proving their nemesis.

France hosted the first 24-nation UEFA EURO from 10 June to 10 July 2016. The host team reached the final, losing by a single goal to Portugal after extra time.