Unlike European leviathans Italy and Germany, who invariably make their way to the latter stages of major finals, France has always enjoyed a more cyclical relationship with success, dependent upon the emergence of talented players to make its mark at the highest level.
Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine, who to this day holds the goalscoring record for a single FIFA World Cup™ finals, were the driving forces for LesBleus when they made their first significant impact on the world stage at Sweden 1958. As France's 5-2 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Brazil and their 6-3 third-place-match win over West Germany showed, it was a time when forwards held sway over hard-pressed defences.
A spell in the international wilderness followed and was only ended when the truly inspirational No10 Michel Platini came onto the scene. Prompted by his guile and finesse, the French added a whole new dimension to their game, impressing everyone with their performances at Argentina 1978 but lacking the experience to get out of a tough group, falling to narrow 2-1 victories to Italy and the hosts before signing off with a 3-1 defeat of Hungary.
In Spain four years later the so-called 'magic diamond', consisting of the supremely gifted midfield quartet of Jean Tigana, Bernard Genghini, Alain Giresse and the inimitable Platini, came into its own. The ultimate prize eluded the French, however, when they relinquished a 3-1 lead in the semi-final against West Germany before going out on penalties in one of the greatest games in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
They made amends two years on as hosts of the UEFA European Championship, clinching the country's first ever major title. Sadly for Les Bleus, the glorious Platini era came to an end at Mexico 1986, but not before the midfield foursome - with Luis Fernandez now replacing Genghini - had driven France to a magnificent quarter-final win over the Brazilians. Fernandez it was who applied the coup de grace from the spot at the end of a superb attacking spectacle that Pele later described as the match of the century.
The retirement of several members of this exceptional generation marked the end of a cycle, and although exciting talents such as Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona were coming through, France's international influence began to wane.
The opening of the national technical centre at Clairefontaine and a renewed emphasis on French-style training methods soon brought about a renaissance, however.
In the second half of the 90s, a bright new star began to shine in the French firmament in the shape of the prodigious Zinedine Zidane. Coach Aime Jacquet used UEFA Euro 1996 in England as the springboard for a new breed of gifted players with characters to match, including Youri Djorkaeff, Laurent Blanc, Lilian Thuram, Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly, Fabien Barthez, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet. The policy bore fruit in 1998 when the boys in blue made the most of home advantage to hoist the game's coveted trophy. A brace of headers from Zidane propelled Jacquet's side to a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Final and the then Juventus midfielder to demi-god status in France.
Front men Nicolas Anelka and Sylvain Wiltord then rolled off the French production line to help the world champions add the European crown to their growing honours list in 2000. A wholly unexpected and inglorious first-round exit followed at Korea/Japan 2002, but the old stagers rallied themselves one last time at Germany 2006 only to be denied a second world title in a penalty shootout against Italy in the Final.
The task now facing current tactician-in-chief Raymond Domenech is to build on that performance, while harnessing the potential of yet another nouvelle vague, headed by Karim Benzema, Lassana Diarra, Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri.