“We have everything to prove,” Brigitte Henriques, the secretary-general of the French Football Federation (F.F.F.), said recently of France’s quest at the World Cup in Canada. They even have a hashtag, #objectifcanada.
This year’s favorites are a familiar bunch: the United States; Japan, the defending champions; Germany; teams from Scandinavia; and perhaps Brazil—nations that traditionally prize women’s soccer, or at least have solid track records at international competitions. France has historically not been a part of this group, but after a fourth-place finish in the 2011 World Cup, Les Bleues, as the national side is called, entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in FIFA’s global standings. They won their opening match on Tuesday, beating England 1-0.
Women’s soccer has been played in France for the better part of a century, but the sport was long stigmatized as being too masculine for women or girls. Such ideas date back to the sport’s nineteenth-century origins: it was a more violent game then, and was believed to be suited to forming strong men—future leaders of the republic—rather than developing overly muscled, unfeminine women. These attitudes cast a long shadow. Frenchwomen played soccer (in small numbers) and established a national-championship league, in 1919. Yet the sport remained a masculine domain, and this early effort faded by the nineteen-thirties.
The cultural changes that shook France during the sixties—the blurring of class distinctions and loosening of traditional gender norms; the youth protests of May, 1968, which nearly unseated President Charles de Gaulle—included a new outlook toward women’s sports. In the seventies, the F.F.F. reinstated women’s soccer—Les Bleues_ _played their first official international match, a 4-0 win over the Netherlands, in 1971—but the game continued to combat long-held notions of who should, and should not, get to play. While the United States instituted its Title IX rules around this time to legally insure equal opportunity for male and female athletes, there was no such legislation in France, and the country took longer to invest in its women’s game. Without institutional and financial support, the women’s national team lagged far behind its counterparts in other countries. Les Bleues didn’t qualify for a major international tournament until the 1997 European Championship, and they didn’t reach the World Cup until 2003 (when they were eliminated in the group stage).
Years of lacklustre performances did not help the women's team's reputation at home, but national-team service did give a generation of young women players the opportunity to see how their sport was played and received in other countries. Henriques (then Brigitte Olive) played for France from 1988 through 1997 and travelled to the United States with the team. “It was always a dream for me to go there,” she said, because soccer was one of the top sports for girls. She recalled watching young American girls kicking around balls at stadiums before matches. “It is great to see that today in [France], it is the same.”
So, what changed?
The success of the men’s national team in the late nineties renewed popular interest in soccer; in particular, the team's World Cup win in 1998 led to a spike in participation among French girls. The same year, the F.F.F. created a training center for young women at Clairefontaine, the federation’s national soccer center, where the best players could practice together. It helped to raise the athletic bar, and professional clubs with women’s teams, such as Olympic Lyonnais and Montpellier, subsequently founded youth academies for their young female players.
Noël Le Graët, who has been the F.F.F. president since 2011, has also offered support to the women’s game. After his election, he appointed female executives, including Henriques, to key posts throughout the federation. Under his administration, greater funding and resources have been devoted to the national team and to developing the women’s game at all levels, from the youth clubs to professional leagues. Henriques and the F.F.F. launched several campaigns to expand participation throughout the country, using phrases like “Mesdames, Franchissez La Barriere!” (“Ladies, Go Through the Barrier!”), which encourages women to join their local teams, and “Les Journées ‘rentrée du foot’” (“Return to Soccer Days”), timed for the end of summer holidays, to get girls to try the sport in the new school year.
But the major turning point for women’s soccer was the 2011 World Cup. Before that tournament, Henriques recalled, “it [wa]s like we didn’t exist. Nobody was talking about us in the media.” But the performance of Les Bleues_ _that summer, and the increased coverage of the women’s game that came with their success, changed the situation. “When we came back in France, it was incredible,” she said. “People discovered that women’s [soccer] does exist in France and it was so surprising.”
“When our national team plays in our country, we have stadiums full, packed, of about twelve thousand to fifteen thousand spectators” Henriques said. While attendance is not as high as it is for the men’s team, which can attract as many as eighty thousand fans for marquee matches, it is a significant improvement from a decade ago, when barely thirteen hundred people turned out for women’s friendly games. “It is a big change for us for the people love our national team,” Henriques said. And while soccer fans in France have grown disenchanted with the men’s side in recent years—in a survey leading up to the 2014 World Cup, only twenty per cent of respondents said that they viewed the team positively—the women’s team remains relatively free from criticism. Today Les Bleues enjoy the highest popularity among all the women’s teams in France, according to study conducted late last year by Kantar Sport and published in the sports daily L’Équipe. Earlier this year, FIFA announced that France had been selected to host the Women’s World Cup in 2019.
The “World Cup effect” on women’s soccer has not yet faded. The F.F.F. counted 54,482 licensed female players in 2011. That number rose to 66,787, in 2013, and to 83,000, i 2015. Much of this owes to the victories of Les Bleues,_ _increased media coverage of the team, and the opportunities that aspiring footballeuses now have to play in clubs and, for the top players, to train in one of the academies. According to Henriques, one of the most surprising trends is that, since 2011, the biggest area of growth has been among teen-age girls—a demographic that has long been difficult to retain. As the number of teen-agers playing soccer has increased, so has the level of play: in the past four years, France has won the U-17 World Cup and the U-19 UEFA European Championship.
The future is promising for women’s soccer in France. And hopes are high for this year's World Cup. More people are watching than ever before, and the expectations for the team have never been higher. It is, Henriques said, “the moment for us to prove that our progress is not only for the friendly matches.”
This article is about France national football team players with at least 20 appearances. For a list of all notable national team players, see France international footballers category. For the current national team squad, see Current squad.
The France national football team (French: Equipe de France) represents the nation of France in international association football. It is fielded by the French Football Federation (French: Fédération Française de Football), the governing body of football in France, and competes as a member of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which encompasses the countries of Europe. The team played its first official international match on 1 May 1904 against Belgium. Since its first competitive match, more than 800 players have made at least one international appearance for the team, only players with 20 or more offici Jean Ducret became the first French international to reach 20 caps, doing so on 29 March in a 2–0 defeat to Italy. He was also one of the first permanent captains of the national team. Ducret was later surpassed by defenderRaymond Dubly and goalkeeperPierre Chayriguès, who both played with the national team until 1925. Dubly finished his international career with 31 caps. Three years after retiring from the national team, Dubly's amount was exceeded by Jules Dewaquez, who went on to finish his career with 41 appearances. Dewaquez's record stood for nearly a decade before his amount was equaled by Edmond Delfour in 1938 and later surmounted by Étienne Mattler a year later. Similar to Dubly, Mattler's amount was exceeded, however after two decades, by former Stade de Reims defenders Roger Marche and Robert Jonquet. It was the former player who took over the record outperforming Jonquet by just five caps. Marche's 63 appearances remained the France national team record for appearance-making for 24 years, the longest time between the record being broken and set again. Marche was surpassed by Marius Trésor, who set the record after appearing in an October 1983 friendly match against Spain.
Trésor represented France only once afterward and his 65-cap output was subsequently passed by defender Maxime Bossis and midfielderMichel Platini. Bossis surpassed Trésor during qualifying for the 1986 FIFA World Cup, while Platini went beyond the former Marseille and Bordeaux player at the tournament itself, in which France finished in third place. Both players retired within months of each other as Bossis finished his career occupying the record, which was now at 76 caps, four more than Platini. After appearing at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Bossis acquired the record of appearing in the most FIFA World Cup matches for France. He was surpassed by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in 2006. Bossis was passed just six years later by former international teammate Manuel Amoros, who finished his international career with 82 appearances. The 1992–93 UEFA Champions League winner was eventually equaled or outperformed by 12 different players. Of the 12 players, 11 of them played on the team that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and six of them went on to become members of the FIFA Century Club, which consists of association football players who have accumulated 100 or more caps. Following the conclusion of UEFA Euro 2004, the record for France national team appearances was held by Marcel Desailly. As a result, Desailly became the first player not born in France or the overseas departments and territories to occupy the record. The current record holder for appearances with the national team is Lilian Thuram, who made 142 total competitive appearances for the team between 1994 and 2008. Thuram broke Desailly's record at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in the team's final group stage match against Togo. He is the second player born in an overseas department to hold the record, the first being Trésor. Both players were born in Guadeloupe.
Appearances and goals are composed of FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Football Championship, and FIFA Confederations Cup matches and each competition's required qualification matches, as well as numerous international friendly tournaments and matches. Players are listed by number of caps, then number of goals scored. If number of goals are equal, the players are then listed alphabetically. Statistics correct as of 14 November 2017.