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European football's enduring French connection

About UEFA Members

As the French Football Federation (FFF) prepares to host the UEFA Congress in Paris, we reflect on the nation's impressive contribution to European football over the past 70 years.

France captain Didier Deschamps lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy after leading his side to victory at UEFA EURO 2000
France captain Didier Deschamps lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy after leading his side to victory at UEFA EURO 2000 Icon Sport via Getty Images

From pivotal moments in UEFA's history to unforgettable triumphs on the pitch, few nations have made such an impact on the beautiful game as France.

Below, we highlight some of the country's key contributions and achievements over 70 years of European football.

Setting up home

Although founded at a meeting in Basel, Switzerland, on 15 June 1954, it was in the French capital that UEFA originally set up its headquarters.

The organisation's first general secretary, Henri Delaunay, worked for UEFA on a voluntary basis, combining his duties with his role as general secretary of the French Football Federation (FFF), based in Paris.

UEFA's HQ remained in the city until the Executive Committee voted in December 1959 to move its base to Switzerland, with new offices opened at premises in Berne in January 1960.

UEFA's first home was in Paris
UEFA's first home was in ParisGetty Images/iStockphoto

The birth of the Champions League

Following a blueprint in late 1954 from French daily newspaper L'Équipe, the Executive Committee agreed in June 1955 that UEFA would organise a new European club competition, known as the European Champion Clubs' Cup.

The original proposals drawn up by L'Équipe journalist Jacques Ferran were approved with a few amendments. UEFA invited its national associations to enter their champion clubs, while also giving priority to the clubs first invited by L'Équipe, despite some not actually being domestic champions.

The first round line-up fell into place after various confirmations, withdrawals and replacements had been completed. Some names will be familiar and others less so: AGF Aarhus (Denmark), RSC Anderlecht (Belgium), Djurgårdens IF (Sweden), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Gwardia Warszawa (Poland), Hibernian FC (Scotland), AC Milan (Italy), MTK Budapest (Hungary, then named Vörös Lobogó SE), FK Partizan (Yugoslavia), SK Rapid Wien (Austria), Real Madrid CF (Spain), Sporting CP (Portugal), SC Rot-Weiss Essen (West Germany), 1. FC Saarbrücken (Saarland), Servette FC (Switzerland) and Stade de Reims (France).

The first European Champion Clubs' Cup match took place on Sunday 4 September 1955 – a 3-3 draw between Lisbon's Sporting Clube de Portugal and Belgrade's FK Partizan setting the tone for a competition, now the UEFA Champions League, that continues to thrill players and fans alike to this day.

France was a natural fit to stage the competition's inaugural final, and Stade de Reims raced into a two-goal lead at the Parc des Princes in Paris, before Real Madrid hit back to claim a 4-3 win.

And thus began an enduring European football adventure that continues to write its own unforgettable history.

Real Madrid's Alfredo di Stefano holds the trophy aloft after winning the first European Cup final
Real Madrid's Alfredo di Stefano holds the trophy aloft after winning the first European Cup final©Getty Images

Ballon d'Or celebrates excellence

The brainchild of another of France's football-loving journalists, Gabriel Hanot, the Ballon d'Or was launched in 1956 by France Football magazine.

Since Stanley Matthews became its first recipient, the award has become the most prestigious accolade a footballer can receive in recognition of outstanding achievements and exceptional talent.

Lionel Messi (eight) and Cristiano Ronaldo (five) have dominated the Ballon d'Or in recent years, though in 2022 Karim Benzema became the fifth French winner after Raymond Kopa (1958), Michel Platini (1983, 1984, 1985), Jean-Pierre Papin (1991) and Zinédine Zidane (1998).

From this year, UEFA will co-organise the Ballon d'Or – which introduced a women's award in 2018 – alongside Groupe Amaury, owner of France Football and L'Équipe. Two new awards will be added to the programme this year: a men's and women's coach of the year.

UEFA will co-organise the Ballon d'Or from 2024

The French father of the EURO

Henri Delaunay's name may well sound familiar. That's because it adorns the trophy lifted every four years by the winner of the men's UEFA European Football Championship.

Delaunay had first mooted the idea of a European competition for national teams way back in 1927, though it would be more than 30 years before the idea reached fruition.

Sadly, Delaunay did not live to see his dream become reality. Proposals were put before UEFA's inaugural Congress in March 1955, but he passed away later that year, and it would be his son Pierre, who succeeded him as general secretary, that continued to champion the idea until it was given the green light.

The first official match in the European Nations' Cup, as it was initially called, took place on 28 September 1958, when the USSR beat Hungary 3-1 before 100,572 fans at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

In recognition of Henri Delaunay's role in the creation of the new competition, the trophy was named after him.

The inaugural competition concluded with a four-team final tournament in France in July 1960, involving the hosts, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Yugoslavia. The USSR triumphed 2-1 after extra time in the final against Yugoslavia at the Parc des Princes.

The stage was set for the development of a competition that has grown into one of the biggest and most popular sporting events in the world.

Henri Delaunay, UEFA's first General Secretary
Henri Delaunay, UEFA's first General Secretary©Getty Images

EURO 1984 and a taste for trophies

It will be 40 years this summer since France became the third host nation to win the men's EURO, clinching their first major honour in doing so. Captain Michel Platini scored a record nine times, including in the 2-0 win over Spain in the final.

Since then, the French have had high expectations and have regularly delivered on the international stage. Their men won the 1998 FIFA World Cup, once again on home soil, before sealing a second EURO in 2000, beating Italy 2-1 with a golden goal. They were a penalty shoot-out away from another World Cup victory in 2006, while a solitary Portugal goal denied them in Paris at EURO 2016, but eventually they could celebrate once more when they became world champions with a 4-2 win over Croatia in 2018.

Watch Platini's nine goals at EURO 1984

Lyon's European dominance

International honours have so far eluded France's women, but at club level nobody comes close to matching the exploits of Olympique Lyonnais Féminin – eight-time winners of the UEFA Women's Champions League. French trio Wendie Renard, Sarah Bouhaddi and Eugénie Le Sommer took part in all those victories, with Renard, the competition's record appearance-maker, having featured in a total of ten finals.

Lyon have also dominated domestically, claiming the women's league title in 16 of the past 17 seasons. Paris Saint-Germain broke a run of 14 consecutive Lyon titles in 2020/21 and have also emerged as a power on the European stage. This season, there was a third French team in the Women's Champions League group stage, Paris FC, who beat former champions Arsenal and Wolfsburg in qualifying.

2022 Women's Champions League final highlights: Barcelona 1-3 Lyon

Futsal for the future

After years of sustained success in the 11-a-side game, is France also set to become a force in futsal?

In 2024, France's men's team will compete in their first FIFA Futsal World Cup finals, having secured their place late last year, going unbeaten in an elite round qualifying group containing Croatia, Germany and Slovakia.

That achievement came just months after the FFF unveiled its first futsal strategy, and precedes the French team's entrance into qualifying for the inaugural FIFA Futsal Women's World Cup later this year, having played their first friendlies during 2023.

"Futsal is a fantastic sport that has been arousing great enthusiasm among young people for many years," said FFF president Philippe Diallo. "This has resulted in a significant and promising number of registered players, and it is the first school sport for girls and boys, with nearly 200,000 young people playing it."

Looking to the future, Diallo confirmed the FFF will also introduce youth teams into international futsal competitions, and look to improve its structures to develop training and competition performance at all levels.