History of France in the World Cup

The history of France in the World Cup goes all the way back to 1930 when they were one of the 13 teams to participate in the inaugural event over 90 years ago. Since then, France has played in 15 of the next 21 soccer tournaments, up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where the team is now in the final vs. Argentina trying to become the first back-to-back champion since Brazil in 1962.

Here is all you need to know about the history of France in the World Cup.

When France didn’t participate in the World Cup

The French national team has missed six World Cups out of the 22 played.

France participated in the first three World Cups from 1930 to 1938 and hosted the tournament in ’38. After that, though, the World Cup took a 12-year hiatus due to World Wars. When it returned in 1950, France didn’t qualify. However, when Turkey and Scotland pulled out, France got an invitation. After accepting the invitation, the European country ultimately turned it down, citing the cost of traveling to Brazil.

The team turned things around in 1954 and 1958, finishing out the 50s with its best results to date in ’58 (more on that below). Les Bleus hit a major rough patch in the 1960s and early 70s, though. During that period, France failed to qualify for the 1962, 1970, and 1974 World Cups. During that period, the federation went through six managers.

The seventh manager of France during that time was Michel Hidalgo, who turned the program around and set the team up to make the next three World Cups, managing two of them.  

Another down period followed, with France missing 1990 and 1994 in the U.S. That last miss was particularly notable as the team was in place to qualify for the tournament with two matches left in the process. Then they were upset by Israel and Bulgaria and missed out.

France has participated in every World Cup since.

France’s worst performance at the World Cup

Turning our attention to the 16 World Cups France has played in, the national team has failed to make it out of the Group Stage six times. Here is a look at the results of those groups:

HostYearGroupCountries in GroupRecord (W-D-L)WC Finish
Uruguay19301Argentina, Chile, Mexico1-0-27th
Switzerland19541Brazil, Yugoslavia, Mexico1-0-111th
England19661England, Uruguay, Mexico0-1-213th
Argentina19781Italy, Argentina, Hungary1-0-212th
Korea-Japan2002ADenmark, Senegal, Uruguay0-1-228th
South Africa2010AUruguay, Mexico, South Africa0-1-229th

There are some odd coincidences among France’s early exits. Every time they’ve gone out in the Group Stage, it’s been from Group 1 or A. They’ve also had trouble when grouped with Mexico and/or the host country.

In 2002, the early exit was bad, especially considering France was the defending champs, and they lost to Senegal, a team in the World Cup for the first time. However, 2010 had to be France’s worst performance in a World Cup.

Not only did the team have its lowest finish ever, but the drama surrounding the French National Team was cranked up to 11. Throughout their time in South Africa, the team fought with each other and manager Raymond Domenech. Star striker Nicolas Anelka even got sent home, and the team boycotted training because of that before their last match.

Round of 16 and quarterfinal exits 

France in the World Cup, World Cup, World Cup final, France
(L-R) Zinedine Zidane in 1998; Antoine Griezmann in 2018 | Achim Scheidemann/picture alliance via Getty Image; Mehdi Taamallah / Nurphoto

The good news about the history of France in the World Cup is that when it qualifies for the tournament and makes it out of the Group Stage (when applicable), the team rarely loses in the first or second round of the knockout games. In fact, this has only happened three times.

The 1934 and 1938 World Cups didn’t feature a Group Stage. They were 16-team knockout tournaments. In ’34, France lost to Austria 3-2 in extra time of their first match, and as the hosts in ’38, France won its opener 3-1 over Belgium before losing to the eventual winners, Italy, 3-1 in Round 2.

The other quarterfinal exit for Les Bleus came in 2014. The team dominated Group E that year, getting two wins and a draw over Honduras (3-0), Switzerland (5-2), and Ecuador (0-0). A 2-0 win over Nigeria followed in the Round of 16 before France again lost to the eventual champs, falling 1-0 to Germany.

Semifinals losses, third or fourth-place finishes 

In the history of France in the World Cup, the team has lost in the semifinals and played in the third-place match. Here are the results of those tournaments:

HostYearSemis opponentScore3rd place opponentScorePlace
Sweden1958Brazil2-5West Germany6-33rd
Spain1982West Germany3-3 (4-5 pen.)Poland2-34th
Mexico1986West Germany0-2Belgium4-2 (a.e.t)3rd

These all happened prior to the country winning its first World Cup. Since 1986, the World Cup has been feast or famine for the French.

France has been to three World Cup Finals, winning two 

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After missing out on the 1990 and 1994 events, the history of France in the World Cup changed dramatically in 1998 on the team’s home soil.

The 1998 France squad featured a Golden Generation of French footballers led by arguably the best French player of all time, Zinedine Zidane. Also on this team were goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, defenders Lilian Thuram and Marcel Desailly, midfielders Patrick Vieira and (current France manager at 2022 World Cup) Didier Deschamps, and forwards Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.

This side cruised through much of the tournament, including the final vs. a Ronaldo-led Brazil team. They won the trophy 3-0, even after Desailly was sent off with his second yellow card in the 68th minute.

Eight years later, a French team led by a now-33-year-old Zidane, along with Barthez, Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Henry, and Trezeguet, made it back to the World Cup final. Le Bleus took on Italy in this contest, which would feature one of the most memorable and controversial moments in World Cup history.

The game went to extra time, tied 1-1 after goals from Zidane and Italy defender Marco Materazzi. Near the end of extra time, Materazzi said something to Zidane (possibly about the French star’s mother and her Algerian heritage). The French star reacted by head-butting the Italian in the chest. This drew a red card for Zidane.

Without their captain, France lost 5-3 in the penalty shootout.

A generation later, France once again lifted the World Cup trophy. In 2018 in Russia, led by teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe and then-Barcelona star Antoine Griezmann, the French held off a challenge in the final from scrappy underdog Croatia to win 4-2.

In 2022, the latest chapter of the history of France in the World Cup will be written as the team takes on Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final to win back-to-back championships for the first time since Brazil did it 60 years ago.