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Football in France

One of only three nations to have won back-to-back tournaments, France's place among the elite of international football is unquestionable. revisits their rise to the top.
by Christian Châtelet
from Paris

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Football in France

One of only three nations to have won back-to-back tournaments, France's place among the elite of international football is unquestionable. revisits their rise to the top.

As one of only three nations to have won back-to-back major tournaments, France are firmly established among the elite of international football. Inseparable icons Michel Platini and Zinédine Zidane have played no small part in creating a lasting legacy, while propelling Les Bleus to unprecedented heights, yielding two UEFA European Championships and a FIFA World Cup.

In the beginning was Lucien Laurent
It was only right that France competed in the first edition of the World Cup after countryman and former FIFA president Jules Rimet initiated the inaugural tournament in 1930. On the pitch, Laurent will be remembered for scoring the first goal in World Cup history, a 19th-minute volley in a 4-1 defeat of Mexico. In 1927 another Frenchman, and the first UEFA General Secretary, Henri Delaunay, pioneered a vehicle to exhibit the continent's finest players, and the UEFA European Championship was born 31 years later. Delaunay died in 1955, but his name and his vision had been immortalised. 

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Just Fontaine after the third-place match in 1958

Goals flow for Fontaine 
Legends were born and history was made as France flirted with world supremacy in 1958. Just Fontaine plundered a record 13 goals, yet was ultimately overshadowed by a 17-year-old upstart: Pelé. The Brazilian ended Les Bleus' run at the semi-final stage with a hat-trick, but home captain Robert Jonquet captured the nation's heart, playing on despite suffering a broken leg after half an hour. The final outpour of adulation came for Fontaine, who found the net four times as Albert Batteux's charges dispatched Germany 6-3 to finish third. 

Les Bleus come of age 
Simmering on the surface of success, France's potential boiled over on home turf in the 1984 UEFA European Championship. Having sparkled en route to the World Cup semi-finals two years earlier, Michel Hidalgo's team found a new level, with tough-tackling Luis Fernandez complementing the flamboyant trio of Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana.

Platini contributed the only goal in France's opening 1-0 win against Denmark and he followed up with trebles against Belgium and Yugoslavia. After conjuring an extra-time winner in a 3-2 semi-final defeat of Portugal, Platini squeezed a free-kick past goalkeeper Luis Arconada as France overcame Spain 2-0 in the Paris final. Olympique de Marseille flew the French flag on the club scene by winning the first edition of the UEFA Champions League nine years later. 

©Getty Images

David Trezeguet (unsighted) seals UEFA EURO 2000 glory for France

There's no place like home 
When the World Cup returned to France in 1998 expectancy reigned. Aimé Jacquet's team responded in style, digging deep to overcome Paraguay, Italy and Croatia in the knockout stages following a flawless Group C campaign. Star-studded Brazil were swept aside in the euphoria of the Stade de France final as Zidane dispatched two first-half headers before Emmanuel Petit crowned a regal performance in added time.

Roger Lemerre yielded a second European title two years later at the expense of Italy. Time ebbed agonisingly for France, but just as it seemed they were beaten Sylvain Wiltord poked in a last-gasp equaliser. The expressions on Dino Zoff's bench spoke volumes and 13 minutes into extra time Trezeguet's devastating volley sealed a historic win. Not content, France added FIFA Confederations Cup titles in 2001 and 2003. 

Falling from grace 
With great expectation comes disappointment. Testament to that adage was France's performance at the next World Cup in Japan/South Korea as they became the first holders to fall at the group stage, mustering just one point.

©Getty Images

Zinédine Zidane celebrates his opener in the 2006 World Cup final

Despite bouncing back to qualify for UEFA EURO 2004, their run in Portugal was cut short in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Greece. In the same year, Didier Deschamp's AS Monaco FC emerged as unlikely candidates for the UEFA Champions League, seeing off the likes of Chelsea FC and Real Madrid CF before falling at the final hurdle to FC Porto. 

The country rekindled their love for the World Cup when Lilian Thuram, Claude Makélélé and Zidane came out of international retirement and took Raymond Domenech's team to the 2006 final against Italy. Captain Zidane broke the deadlock to become only the fourth player to score in two World Cup finals, but Marco Materazzi levelled.

The midfielder was denied a fairly-tale ending when he saw red in extra time and the Azzurri prevailed on penalties. France would not get past the group stage again until UEFA EURO 2012 when Lauren Blanc steered his side to the quarter-finals, where they lost to all-conquering Spain. 

Last updated: 09/06/15 1.57CET

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