A Brief History of French Soccer

(Photo: thehardtackle.com)

French national soccer team is nicknamed Les Blues. They played their very first game as soccer representatives of France on the 1st of May 1904 in a game against Belgium. The game was played in Uccle, Belgium and it ended in 3-3 tie.

France even participated at one Olympic tournament with 2 national teams. On the 7th of June 1908, FIFA declared that USFSA, at the time Governing Body for all French Sports, still has the control over the national soccer team for the Olympic competitions. Because of this decision France sent two national teams to 1908 Olympic Games in London. They were named France A and France B. France A was controlled by FIFA and its results were recognized by FIFA, while France B was under the control of USFSA and its results were not recognized by FIFA.

The French Tend to Improved the Game

( Jules Rimet one the left presents the trophy to Uruguayan FA president Paul Jude after the final. The trophy that carried Jules Rimet’s name was lost twice. In England it was stolen, but recovered soon enough, and in Brazil, where it was probably melted and never seen again | Photo: fourfourtwo.com)

The Olympic soccer competitions were a big success worldwide, so FIFA led by Frenchman Jules Rimes, its president at the time, as the main driving force behind this idea, decided to start its own international competition. On the 28th of May 1928, FIFA’s congress in Amsterdam decided to start FIFA World Cup. The first competition was decided to take place in 1930 in Uruguay, country that won last two Olympic tournaments, on the 100th anniversary of country’s independence. The rest is history.

The idea to start European continental competition was first brought up to public as early as 1927 by the secretary of the French Soccer Federation (FFF, Fédération Française de Football) Henri Delaunay. But, unfortunately, the decision to start the European Championship had to wait until 1958, three years after Delaunay’s death. To honor Henri Delaunay for his idea, the trophy that is awarded to the European Champions carries his name. The first European Championship was held in 1960 in France.

(Gabriel Hanot | Photo: ideasoneurope.eu)

In 1948, another Frenchman, Gabriel Hanot, chief editor of French sport magazine L’Equipe, suggested to start the continental competition of league champions, after he was impressed with South American Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones. Hanot managed to convince UEFA that there is need for this type of competition. The tournament started in 1955. Firstly the torunament was named European Champion Clubs’ Cup, but it was later reorganized and renamed to UEFA Champions League.

So, three Frenchmen were the driving forces behind the idea to start three most important soccer competitions today, the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Euro and the UEFA Champions League.

But French national team and French clubs had to wait a long time to achieve success in those competitions.

History of French National Team

France was one of just four European national teams to participate in the first ever World Cup held in 1930 in Uruguay. France even played the first ever World Cup game when they defeated Mexico 4-1 at Estadio Pocitos in Montevideo. French forward Lucien Laurent scored the first goal of the game and therefore he become the first ever goal scorer in the World Cup history.

(1930 USA team (back row, l-r) coach Bob Millar, unknown, Jimmy Gallagher, Alexander Wood, Jimmy Douglas, George Moorhouse, Ralph Tracy, Andy Auld, unknown; (front row, l-r) Jim Brown, Billy Gonsalves, Bert Patenaude, Tom Florie, Bart McGhee | Photo: firsttouchonline.com)

(USA also participated in this World Cup. Not only that, the USA team reached the 3rd place, nation’s best World Cup result until this day. Same as Yugoslavia, USA lost the semi-final match, and since the 3rd place match never took place USA were named as the 3rd placed team, due to their overall record during the tournament. This was the first and the last World Cup without at least one European national team among the top 3 teams.)

France were chosen as the hosts of the 1938 World Cup, but unfortunately they became the first host not to win the World Cup. They were eliminated in the quarter finals by, at the time current World Champions, Italy. After defeating France, Italy went on to the final where they defended their World Cup title with the win over Hungary in the last World Cup final before the World War II.

The 1950ies are fondly remembered by the French soccer public, because of the emergence of a great generation which included Just Fontaine, Raymond Kopa, Jean Vincent, Robert Jonquet, Maryan Wisnieski, Thadée Cisowski and Armand Penverne. Most of this team was composed of players from Lille, Saint-Étienne and Stade Reims. At the time Stade Reims was experiencing their most fruitful period in their history to date.

(Just Fontaine | Photo: worldsoccertalk.com)

French team, mainly constructed around those players, participated in the 1958 World Cup. They were a team in top form before the semi-final game, where they had to face a Brazil team, which was flying on the wings of a certain teenager called Pele. French players were unable to contain the incredible Brazilians, but to be fair, an injury of a key defender Robert Jonquet played a big part in this defeat. Brazil won the game 5-2 and Pele recorded a hat trick. In the 3rd place match France destroyed the West Germany 6-2 and secured their first top 3 World Cup finish. In the 3rd place match French striker Just Fontaine scored four goals which brought him the total of 13 goals for the final tournament. Fontaine’s 13 goals in the tournament set the record for the most goals scored in the single World Cup tournament at the time. And it remained so ever since. It looks like this is one of those records that will never be broken.

In 1960 France were awarded to host the first ever European Championship, but they once again failed to win the international competitions as hosts. The first official champion of Europe was the USSR team.

In 1982 World Cup in Spain, France reached the semi-final where they faced West Germany. This game turned out to be one of the most memorable games in history of soccer. After the first 45minutes the result was tied at 1-1. Up until this point this game was good, but nothing so far suggested this game will be remembered as one of the most interesting games ever played. One of the most memorable moment in French soccer history happened midway through the second half when German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher violently collided with French player Patrick Battison who was clear on goal.

(Toni Schumacher collides with Patrick Battison | Photo: dailyrecord.co.uk)

Schumacher run away from the accident as soon as possible and began a series of stretching exercises that infuriated the French fans. When Dutch referee Charles Corver failed to sanction the German keeper’s actions in any way, French fans were even more outraged. Their shocks didn’t stop there. Battison was still lying on the floor. He was clearly without consciousness so he had to be rushed to the hospital. Several media outlets even reported that Battison had died, which thankfully was not the case. Battison is still alive and well. In the end, once that Battison regained consciousness, Schumacher’s savage hit only needed to be treated by a dentist, since Battison was lucky enough to escape this incident with “only” three lost teeth and nothing more.

The game had to go on, and it was still tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes. The winner had to be decided in the extra time. That’s when the already fierce affair earned its legendary status. In the opening 8 minutes of the extra time France went 3-1 ahead and looked to be on the way to break their curse and reach the final for the very first time. But the resilient Germans got back into the game and eventually won the game after the penalty shoot-out. French team was distraught, but they were convinced they are capable of great things.

In 1984 France had a chance to prove that. They were again awarded to host the European Championship and the expectations from the national team were huge. Team lead by the superstar Michel Platini won 11 out of 12 friendly games before the tournament. Their only loss during that streak happened in Copenhagen against Denmark.

(French Magic Square: Luis Fernández, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Michel Platini | Photo: xtraimmortal.blogspot.com)

When the tournament started France revenged this defeat with 1-0 win over Denmark in the opening game of the tournament. The lonely goal of the game was scored by the team leader Michel Platini. In the next two group games France beat Belgium and Yugoslavia, with Platini scoring hat tricks in both games. French Magic Square members Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Spanish born Luis Fernández were the engine behind the French 1984 campaign.

(Michel Platini with the Henri Delaunay trophy | Photo: naked-football.tumblr.com)

In the semi-final France had to face a strong Portugal team. France took the lead through Jean-François Domergue’s first half goal, only to see Rui Jordão equalize and take the game into extra time. Rui Jordão scored his 2nd goal of the game in the extra time to take his team on the verge of final. Unlikely hero Domergue again rose to the occasion and equalized for France 5 minutes from time. Following the experience from the last World Cup, French players and fans had every right to dread the penalty shootout. Even though there was practically no time left on the clock, Platini showed he was a great leader and the best European player at the time when he scored the game winner in the last minute of extra time and took France to their first international final. But nobody should forget the other semi-final hero, Domergue, whose two semi-final goals were the only goals he has ever scored for the national team.

Day after France reached the European Championship final, Spain joined them after beating Denmark. The final was a hard fought affair and it remained goalless up until the 57th minute when Platini broke the deadlock from direct free kick, with massive help from Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada, whose mistake allowed France to take the lead. Despite being reduced to 10 men, after the Yvon Le Roux’s 2nd yellow card, France managed to hold onto a lead and even extend it in injury time with Bellone’s goal. This victory secured the first major international title for France.

Later that same year, France won the Olympic gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. In 1985 France defeated Uruguay to win the Artemio Franchi trophy (later turned into the FIFA Confederations Cup). In a year’s time France managed to win 3 out of 4 major international trophies in the world of soccer. The only one still missing was the World Cup title.

In 1986 France has again reached the World Cup semi-final and they started to hope they can collect all 4 major international trophies at the same time. Once again they had to face West Germany. This time, the game was not nearly as memorable as the matchup between the same teams in the last World Cup and thankfully this time nobody was seriously injured. But the outcome was the same. The Germans reached yet another World Cup final, while the French were once again close, but still far enough.

France had to wait one more decade to finally win the World Cup. They did it as hosts in 1998, after their victory over Brazil 3-0 in the final.

(Laurent Blance scores a Golden Goal against Paraguay | Photo: poteaux-carres.com)

Their road to the 1998 World Cup title was not easy. They walked through their group with 3 wins, but their key player, Zinedine Zidane, received a red card in the game against Saudi Arabia for stomping the opponents’ player. Zidane received a red card and was forced to serve a 2 match ban. The whole French soccer public started to fear for the team’s future in the tournament without their key player.

Their fears were justified in the 1/8 final game against resilient Paraguay team. The Paraguayans defended really well and kept the game goalless up until the 114th minute when the French defender Laurent Blanc scored the first ever Golden Goal in history of the World Cup to eliminate the South Americans.

Zidane was back for the quarter final game against Italy, but the game was again undecided after the 90 minutes. In the extra time France were on the edge of elimination when Italian aging superstar Roberto Baggio missed a clear cut chance to score a Golden Goal that would this time eliminate France. After surviving this shock the French managed to take the game to penalty shootout. The penalty shootout was once again fatal for Italian World Cup ambitions. Just like 4 years earlier in the World Cup final at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Italy was eliminated from the World Cup after missing more penalty kicks than their opponents.

France’s semi-final win is very hard game to write about for a Croatian. But here it goes.

(Lilian Thuram scores the game winner against Croatia | Photo: dailymail.co.uk)

In the semi-finals France had to face the World Cup debutants Croatia, team on a mission to make their impossible dream come true. In the first minute of the 2nd half Croatia became the first team to take the lead against France in the whole tournament. It was Davor Suker who scored the opening goal that shocked the French players and the French soccer public. It seemed like France will struggle to come back into this game against the team on a mission. Suker’s goal was the French right back Lilian Thuram’s fault. He made a positioning error and kept Suker onside. But in the very next attack, France managed to equalize through a goal by that same Lilian Thuram, who was the tragic figure of French soccer for less than a minute. It was the first goal Thuram has ever scored for the national team. Some 20 minutes later Thuram scored his 2nd goal of the game and his 2nd and last ever goal for French national team. This goal secured France their first ever World Cup final. Once again, just like in 1984, France won the semi-final game at home with a massive help of two goals scored by a player that had never before and has never since scored a goal for France.

The current World Champions Brazil already awaited France in the final after beating the Netherlands the previous night. French head coach Aime Jacquet decided to play with a four man midfield, so he fielded Christian Karembeu to help Emmanuel Petit and team captain Didier Deschamps in ball distribution and in the battle against Brazilian midfield lead by Leonardo and Rivaldo. Jacquet also moved team’s superstar Zidane to the left and decided to play Youri Djorkaeff just behind the striker Stephane Guivarc’h for the sole purpose of pressuring Brazilian captain Dunga.

(Zinedine Zidane scores against Brazil | Photo: expertfootball.com)

Before the game, Ronaldo, at the time the best soccer player in the world, was not named in the Brazilian starting lineup. This came as a shock for every soccer fan in the world. Rumors started to circulate that he had suffered an epilepsy attack and that he was unfit to play. To this day it is unclear what happened to Ronaldo on that day and why he did eventually play. Only thing that is clear is that it would have been better if he didn’t play. He was clearly sick and unfit to play, which resulted in him being the worst player on the pitch.

On the other side of the pitch Zinedine Zidane had managed to score two goals before the half time. Both goals were headers after set pieces, really not his typical style of scoring. Emmanuel Petit put the icing on the cake with his goal in the minute of the game. France were finally the champions of the world.

Two years later France managed to win their second European Championship title.

Once again their road to the trophy was very hard. In the semi-final they went behind against Portugal, just as in 1984, only to win once again in the last minute of the extra time, just as in 1984, thanks to the goal scored by the team’s best player, just as in 1984. Only this time it wasn’t Michel Platini, but Zinedine Zidane.

(David Trezeguet scores the Golden Goal against Italy | Photo: soccer-museum.com)

In the final, Italy took the lead against France through Marco Delvecchio’s goal. French players were on the ropes. As the last seconds of the game were ticking away, out of pure desperation a long ball was kicked in direction of Italian goal. That ball somehow found its way to the running path of Sylvain Wiltord who scored an equalizing goal with the last kick of the game. In the extra time France won the game after David Trezeguet blasted a Robert Pires’ pass into the top left corner. Nobody had any doubt that this French team is the best national team in the world.

After winning the 2001 Confederations Cup France became, together with Argentina, the only nation who managed to with the FIFA World Cup, FIFA Confederations Cup and the Olympic tournament.

Since then France reached just one more major final. It was in 2006, when they had to face Italy in the World Cup final.

This game was once again a memorable affair. France took the early lead through Zinedine Zidane’s penalty kick goal. With that goal Zidane joined the elite group of players who scored a goal in two different World Cup finals. Before Zidane, Vava (1958 and 1962) and Pele (1958 & 1970) recorded this feat for Brazil, while Paul Breitner (1974 and 1982) recorded this feat for West Germany. Not long after France went ahead, Marco Materazzi scored an equalizer for Italy, and that goal locked the score at 1-1 all the way to penalty shoot-out. But this wasn’t a dull affair. In this high quality game there was a moment of madness in the extra time which surely become the first thing that pops up in the mind of the most soccer fans in the world when somebody mentions World Cup 2006.

(Zidane head-butts Materazzi | Photo: dailymail.co.uk)

The two goalscorers, Marco Materazzi and Zinedine Zidane, found themselves one next to the other walking away from the Italian goal. Materazzi managed to provoke Zidane, who responded with head-butting Materazzi to the chest. Zidane was sent off in the last game of his magnificent career and France eventually lost the game after penalty shoot-out.

Only David Trezeguet’s kick didn’t find the net in that shoot-out. But his kick was so close that it hit the woodwork and then the goal line before it went back out. It is to the day the only major tournament final that France has lost.

Club Success

The most successful club in the history of the French soccer is Saint-Étienne, with 10 league titles, all won between 1957 and 1981. Olympique Marseille has won the title 9 times and Nantes has won the title 8 times.

In the European competitions French clubs were not as successful as one would expect.

(Olympique Marseille with the Champions League trophy | Photo: uefa.com)

In the European cup only one French club has ever lifted the trophy awarded to the Champions of Europe. Olympique Marseille became the so far only French European Champion in 1993, when they defeated AC Milan in the final with the score 1-0.

On six other occasions French clubs reached the European Cup/Champions League final, only to lose on the last step to glory. In 1956 Stade de Reims lost the first ever European Cup final against Real Madrid. Three years later Stade de Reims again lost the European Cup final, again to Real Madrid. French losing streak was continued in 1976 by Saint-Étienne, who had lost the European Cup final against Bayern München. Before eventually winning the Champions League title in 1993, Olympique Marseille also had to experience the agony of losing the Champions League final, when they lost the final in 1991 after penalty shootout against Red Star Belgrade. The last French team to reach and lose the Champions League final was AS Monaco in 2004, when they lost to Porto.

(Paris Saint-Germain with the Cup Winners’ Cup trophy | Photo: psg70.free.fr)

UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup is the competition that doesn’t exist anymore. It has merged with the UEFA Cup into the UEFA League, which was eventually renamed into UEFA Europa League. Again, only one French club managed to win the Cup Winners’ Cup. This time it was Olympique Marseille’s biggest rivals, Paris Saint-Germain, who beat Rapid Wien 1-0 in 1996 final. A year later Paris Saint-Germain were close to becoming the only team ever to defend the Cup Winners’ Cup title, but they lost the final to Barcelona. The first French club to reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final were AS Monaco in 1992, but they lost the final to Werder Bremen.

Not a single French club has ever managed to win either the UEFA Cup or the Europa League. They did reach the final on four occasions, only to lose on each of those occasions. Bastia lost the final to PSV Eindhoven in 1978, Bordeaux lost the final to Bayern Műnchen in 1996 and Olympique Marseille lost the final on two occasions, in 1999 to Parma and in 2004 to Valencia.

Individual Awards

First, it is necessary to explain how the individual awards for the best player were awarded. Today, the FIFA Ballon d’Or is the award for the best soccer player in the world that calendar year. Each FIFA member country has 3 votes for the best player, one from national team head coach, one from national team captain and the last one from the representative of the press. But it wasn’t always as easy as that. Only as late as 2010, Ballon d’Or, the award for the best player in the world given by the France Football magazine, and the FIFA World Player of the Year award were merged into one award, the FIFA Ballon d’Or award.

France Football Ballon d’Or award became reality in 1956, after the soccer magazine France Football’s chief editor Gabriel Hanot decided to start the award for the best player in the world. The Ballon d’Or would be given to the player voted as the best in Europe, according to votes from journalists.

FIFA World Player of the Year award started, much later in 1991, and arguably, Ballon d’Or was still considered as the more important award.

(Jean Pierre Papin | Photo: rankopedia.com)

There were several French players that were voted as the top 3 player in the world in FIFA World Player of the Year award ceremony, chronologically starting with Jean-Pierre Papin who was voted as the 2nd best player in the world in 1991.

The most successful player in the short history of FIFA World Player of the Year awards is Zinedine Zidane. He was named as one of the top 3 players in FIFA World Player of the Year award 6 times. He was named as the 3rd best player in the world in 1997 and 2002, the 2nd best player in world in 2006 and he won FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003.

Zidane’s national team teammate and Arsenal superstar Thierry Henry never managed to win FIFA World Player of the Year award, but he was voted as the 2nd best player in the world in 2003 and 2004.

From the beginning until 1995 Ballon d’Or was only awarded to European Players, so players like Pele and Diego Armando Maradona were not able to win this award. But there were several French players that were voted in the top 3 players in the race to win Ballon d’Or.

(Raymond Kopa | Photo: yourbesteleven.tumblr.com)

Chronologically the first player on this list is Raymond Kopa, who was named as the 3rd best European player in 1956 and 1957, the 2nd best European player in 1959 and he has won the Ballon d’Or in 1958. That same year when Kopa won the Ballon d’Or, Just Fontaine was named as the 3rd best European player.

From 1959 up until 1977 French players were not named in the top 3 players in Europe. In 1977 Michel Platini ended this drought, when he was named as the 3rd best European player. Platini was named as the 3rd best European player once again in 1980, and from then on it was either Ballon d’Or or nothing for the French superstar. Michel Platini has ended his career with three Ballon d’Ors, won in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

Platini’s teammates Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana were named as the 2nd best European players in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

Jean-Pierre Papin won the Ballon d’Or in 1991 and Manchester United’s legend Eric Cantona was named as the 3rd best player in Europe in 1993.

Since 1995, it was allowed to vote even for non-European players, as long as they played in Europe at the time. Only two French players were named in the top 3 best players in the world since then. It isn’t that hard to guess which two players they are.

(Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane | Photo: irishmirror.ie)

Zinedine Zidane was voted as the 3rd best player in the world in 1997, as the 2nd best player in the world in 2000, and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1998. Thierry Henry was named as the 2nd best player in the world in 2003 and as the 3rd best player in the world in 2006.

Since the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year were joined into one award, Franck Ribery is the only French player that managed to squeeze himself into the top 3 players in the world, in 2013.

Euro 2016

In the summer of 2016 France will once again host the major international tournament, Euro 2016. They will become the first nation to host the European Championship 3 times. So far they have hosted a major international tournament 4 times with 50% success.

They once again have a great national team with many extraordinary players, but since they haven’t achieved any great success in recent years, they are still not taken as seriously as they probably should be. But it was the same story in 1998 and on that occasion they achieved the greatest success in the history of French soccer.


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