A Guide To Football In France

Like its other European counterparts, football is France’s most prominent and popular spectator and participatory sport. The country has been one of the most prominent players in world football for the longest time, and its international success is one of the major reasons behind its popularity in the country.

Here is a look at the history of football in France and the sport’s present status in the country. 

History of football in France

Football became popular in France in the later part of the 19th century. The national football team was formed in 1904 and played its first match against Belgium the same year, which ended in a draw. France gained early success and recognition internationally, which led to the establishment of the official football governing body, the French Football Federation (FFF), in 1919. 

In 1917, Charles Simon founded the French Cup, and in 1920, the FFF took over it. 48 teams played the first edition. France participated in the first World Cup in 1930 and hosted its first World Cup in 1938, where the national football team made it to the quarter-finals.

After losing to Brazil, the team finished third in the 1958 World Cup. It was the same event where Just Fontaine set the record for most goals scored in any world tournament. The record remained unbeaten till 2009. 

Following the 1958 World Cup, the French team could not perform well until 1998, when it hosted the World Cup, and the team won the title. Hence began the golden years of French football as the team went on to win its second European title, the UEFA Euro Championship, in 2000. The team also won two FIFA Confederation Cups in 2001 and 2003.

However, the team’s performance again declined in the following years as it exited in the knockout stage at the following World Cup. France lost in the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2004. France also lost in the final of the 2006 World Cup against Italy, and until 2012, the team could not get past the group stage of any tournament. In UEFA Euro 2012, France made it to the quarter-finals, and in 2018, France won the World Cup again. 

France National Football Team

The French national football team was one of the four European teams that took part in the first World Cup in 1930, and it is one of the eight teams that have won the title. As mentioned earlier, the team has brought the title home twice, in 1998 and 2018. 

When France won the Confederation Cup in 2001, it became the first national team to win the three most prestigious titles in men’s football. Brazil and Argentina joined the club after winning the Summer Olympics in 2016 and 2004, respectively. According to FIFA rankings, the French national team is currently the fourth-best team in the world.

France’s women’s national football team was not initially regarded as a prominent player, as the team struggled and failed to qualify for the first three FIFA World Cups and six UEFA European Championships. However, in 1997, the team reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Championship and qualified for the first time for the FIFA World Cup in 2003. The team hosted the 2019 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals. 

France also has national youth football teams for under-16 and under-21 football players. 

Football league system in France

The top French professional football league is Ligue 1, which was formed by the FFF in 1932. Ligue 1 is the 5th best league in Europe after the English Premier League. The league comprises 20 clubs currently and follows a promotion and relegations system with the Ligue 2, the second-highest football league in the country. The current champions of the Ligue 1 are the OSC Lille, who won their fourth title in 2021.

Like the Ligue 1, the Ligue 2 also comprises 20 teams. It was established in 1934 and comprised 23 clubs that were categorised into two groups, Sud and Nord. The league follows a promotion and relegation system with the third top football division, the Championnat National.

The Championnat National was formed in 1993 and follows a promotional and relegation system with the Championnat National 2. Below the Championnat National 2 is the Championnat National 3 and other regional leagues at the lower levels. 

As for women, there are three divisions currently: the top most Division 1 Feminine, Division 2 Feminine, and Division 3 Feminine. These leagues are also moderated by the FFF and follow a promotion and relegations system among each other.

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