Jip de Wijs

The History of the semi-finalist France in the UEFA European Championship

Euro, Euro 2024, France

France has a rich history in the UEFA European Championship (Euros), marked by moments of brilliance, dramatic victories, and significant contributions to the tournament’s legacy. From their early struggles to becoming one of the most successful teams in the competition, this article explores the key milestones in France’s journey in the Euros.

1. Early Years and Foundational Struggles (1960-1980)

France was among the four nations to host the inaugural European Nations’ Cup (now the UEFA European Championship) in 1960. However, their early performances were inconsistent, and they struggled to make a significant impact in the initial editions of the tournament.

1960 European Nations’ Cup: As hosts, France reached the semi-finals but were defeated by Yugoslavia in a thrilling 5-4 match. They then lost to Czechoslovakia in the third-place playoff.

1972 and 1976 European Championships: France failed to qualify for the 1972 and 1976 tournaments, struggling in the qualification rounds amid changes in their footballing structure.

1980 European Championship: France again failed to qualify, signaling a period of rebuilding.

Key Moments:

  • 1960: Reached semi-finals, finished fourth.
  • 1972 & 1976: Failed to qualify.
  • 1980: Failed to qualify.

2. The Golden Era Begins (1984-1996)

The 1980s marked the beginning of a golden era for French football, characterized by the rise of a talented generation and significant triumphs in international competitions.

1984 European Championship: Hosted by France, this tournament marked their first major international success. Led by Michel Platini, who scored a record nine goals, France won the Euros by defeating Spain 2-0 in the final. This victory established France as a formidable force in European football.

1992 European Championship: France had a disappointing campaign, exiting in the group stage despite high expectations. The team struggled to replicate their previous success.

Key Moments:

  • 1984: Won the European Championship, first major international title.
  • 1992: Group stage exit.

3. Mixed Fortunes and Near Misses (1996-2004)

The late 1990s and early 2000s were characterized by mixed performances for France in the Euros, including notable successes and unexpected defeats.

1996 European Championship: Held in England, France reached the semi-finals but lost to the Czech Republic in a penalty shootout. The tournament showed promise but ultimately ended in disappointment.

2000 European Championship: France won their second European Championship, held in Belgium and the Netherlands. Led by stars like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, France defeated Italy 2-1 in the final with a golden goal by David Trezeguet in extra time. This victory followed their 1998 World Cup win, cementing their dominance in international football.

2004 European Championship: Despite being favorites, France were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Greece, who went on to win the tournament. This upset marked a significant downturn from their previous successes.

Key Moments:

  • 1996: Reached semi-finals, eliminated by the Czech Republic.
  • 2000: Won the European Championship.
  • 2004: Quarter-finals, eliminated by Greece.

4. Decline and Rebuilding (2008-2016)

The mid-2000s and early 2010s saw France experiencing a period of decline, with inconsistent performances and early exits in major tournaments.

2008 European Championship: France had a disappointing campaign, exiting in the group stage without winning a match. This performance led to criticism and a need for a strategic overhaul.

2012 European Championship: Under new management, France showed improvement, reaching the quarter-finals. However, they were eliminated by Spain, the eventual champions.

2016 European Championship: Hosted by France, the team reached the final with a strong performance throughout the tournament. Led by Antoine Griezmann, the tournament’s top scorer, France were favorites to win but were defeated by Portugal 1-0 in extra time, with Eder scoring the decisive goal.

Key Moments:

  • 2008: Group stage exit.
  • 2012: Quarter-finals, eliminated by Spain.
  • 2016: Reached the final, defeated by Portugal.

5. Resurgence and Current Success (2020)

In recent years, France has experienced a resurgence, building on a talented squad and strong performances in international competitions.

2020 European Championship: Played in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, France entered the tournament as World Cup champions and favorites. Despite a strong group stage, including a draw with Portugal, they were eliminated in the round of 16 by Switzerland in a dramatic penalty shootout, after a 3-3 draw.

Key Moments:

  • 2020: Round of 16, eliminated by Switzerland.


France’s history in the UEFA European Championship is one of early struggles, golden eras, mixed fortunes, and recent resurgence. Their 1984 and 2000 victories stand out as high points, showcasing their ability to perform at the highest level. Despite facing challenges and setbacks, France has consistently demonstrated resilience and talent, solidifying their status as one of Europe’s top footballing nations. As they continue to build on their rich legacy, France remains a formidable contender in the Euros, with the potential for future triumphs.

Jip de Wijs

Leave a Comment