The wait goes on for a first senior international title, but France can point to a long history of trailblazing achievements in the women's game.
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The home of probably the most successful women's club of all time, Lyon, and hosts of the last FIFA Women's World Cup, France is a frontline nation in the female game. It was a bastion in the early 20th century as well, with a women's league set up in 1919 and unofficial games played against England the following year, and when women's football was later recognised by member associations, France contested the world's first official women's international against the Netherlands on 17 April 1971. The growth continues to this today, with the 2019 World Cup prompting a surge in licensed female players.
Best UEFA competition performance
Senior: UEFA Women's EURO quarter-finals (2009, 2013, 2017)
Youth: UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship winners (2003, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019)
Youth: FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup winners (2012)
French referee Stéphanie Frappart not only took charge of the Women's World Cup final on home soil in 2019 but also officiated the men's UEFA Super Cup the same year. In 2020, she became the first woman to referee a UEFA Champions League match. Frappart is among the officials at Women's EURO 2022 and she is also off to the men's World Cup later this year.
"I hope it serves as an example to female referees, and to any young girls who may aspire to be a referee. You've got to have a passion for football, certainly, if you want to be a referee. And if you have… then why not try it?"
A crowd of over 45,000 watched France begin their home World Cup with a 4-0 defeat of South Korea at the Parc des Princes on 7 June 2019. Les Bleues fell to eventual winners the United States in the quarter-finals, but more than a million spectators attended the tournament overall.
… and off it
The start of Lyon's remarkable story dates back to May 2004, when Olympique Lyonnais took over the female section of FC Lyon. The support given to the women's team was unprecedented for a leading men's club and has resulted in more than 30 trophies so far, including a record of eight UEFA Women's Champions League titles.
A production line over the years for stars including Marinette Pichon, Wendie Renard and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, France has long been a reference point for the women's game – despite the country still awaiting a first senior international title. Within eight months of the 2019 World Cup, the number of registered female players in France had risen by 10%, and competition for French television rights for UEFA Women's EURO 2022 was particularly intense, showcasing the huge local enthusiasm for both playing and watching the women's game.
Here and now
Clara Matéo's dual focus
France’s Clara Matéo chooses to combine her successful playing career with working for a French company developing sports, leisure, eyewear and luxury products. The 24-year-old graduated with an engineering degree in September 2020, just two months before she made her international debut for Les Bleues.
"I have a contract which has me working at 40% capacity, which allows me to devote time to practising sport," she explains. "It suits me to have two careers and as long as I’m successful in both, I’ll keep going.
"Continuing both careers has always been important to me because it gives me a balance. I’ve always felt, from a young age, that I needed to prepare for life after football. Once I had prepared for that, my mind was more at ease in the present."
Joining the game in France
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"Trailblazers" is a unique exhibition that showcases the work of European artists given a blank canvas to celebrate women’s football. UEFA invited artists from participating nations in this summer’s tournament to create an image inspired by the game in their country. France's representative is Claire Prouvost: "The artwork is inspired by the diversity of the French team and by how people come together through football, no matter where you come from and what your background is. United by their love of football and dedication to sports, I wanted to represent a team full of energy and colours."
Investing for the future
Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP)
Since 2010, UEFA's Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP) has provided associations with funding and tools to increase participation, improve standards and build infrastructure to help keep the female game growing. One example of a project funded by the WFDP programme in France is…
Women's refereeing (2017–18)
Teenage girls from schools and football clubs were given the chance to visit an elite women's club in their region to learn more about refereeing through activities on the pitch and a quiz about the laws of football. The main objective was to raise awareness of and interest in refereeing among girls at an early age.
Five events were held, with around 150 girls taking part overall. The launch was held by Lyon, featuring the club's players, head coach and around 80 participants. The success of the project led to the creation of a development plan for women's refereeing.