France won the World Cup when they hosted it in 1998 with a side featuring the likes of Zidane, Henry, Petit, and Viera, that went on to win the 2000 European Championships. Since competing in their first World Cup in 1930, France have missed out six times – once when they withdrew in 1950, and five times when they failed to qualify in 1962, 1970, 1974, 1990, and 1994. However, they have qualified for all five renewals since lifting the trophy in ‘98.
The next World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002 was a disaster that earned France the unenviable record of the worst performance of a champion in the tournament. Without the injured Zidane they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Senegal in the opening group match, before Henry was sent off in a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in the next game. A final 2-0 defeat to Denmark saw the French finish bottom of the group without even scoring a goal.
It was a much-improved performance in 2006 where they reached the final, but it is a game which will be remembered for Zidane’s famous headbutt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi. France finished 2nd in their group in the tournament held in Germany, setting up a tough route to the final. They beat Spain 3-1 in the second round, before beating Brazil 1-0 in the quarter-finals and Portugal by the same scoreline in the semi-finals. The final itself ended 1-1 in normal time after both Zidane and Materazzi scored first-half goals. In extra-time the two exchanged words before Zidane thrust his head into Materazzi’s chest, knocking him to the ground. The French playmaker was shown a red card and Italy went on to win the trophy by prevailing 5-3 in a penalty shootout.
Once again in 2010, a good performance was followed by a bad one as France crashed out at the group stage in South Africa amid unrest in the squad. 2014 in Brazil was a much better showing as France won their group ahead of Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. They saw off Nigeria 2-0 in the second phase, but went down 1-0 to eventual winners Germany in the quarter-finals.