Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 side, who only recently ended a run of 28 games without defeat, were beaten for the second time in three outings last night, and for the first time at home since 2005. France, who unlike England have not qualified for this summer's European Championship, took advantage of some slack defending, especially in the first half.
Back at the ground where he served 12 years as a player, Pearce – who will sign a new two-year contract with the Football Association shortly – spent much of the first half waving England forward as a technically skilful French team pushed them back.
Manchester City's goalkeeper Joe Hart pulled off three good saves in the opening quarter of an hour but could do nothing about the two goals.
In the 25th minute Michael Mancienne failed to clear and the excellent Gabriel Obertan scored with a low drive. Nine minutes later David Wheater lost possession and Obertan sent Moussa Sissoko through a static defence to chip Hart.
Fabrice Muamba came on as the holding midfielder for the second half but France still made as many chances as Pearce's side, for whom Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson was the only player to embellish his reputation.
England (4-1-2-3): Hart (Manchester City); Cranie (Portsmouth), Onuoha (Manchester City), Wheater, A Taylor (both Middlesbrough); Mancienne (Chelsea); Huddlestone (Tottenham), Noble (West Ham); Milner (Aston Villa), Derbyshire (Olympiakos), Johnson (Middlesbrough). Substitutes: Mumamba (Bolton for Wheater, h-t; Campbell (Tottenham) for Derbyshire, 60; Gardner (Aston Villa) for Noble, 70; Wellbeck (Manchester Utd) for Milner, 70; Rodwell (Everton) for Cranie, 83; O'Hara (Tottenham) for Taylor, 83.
France (4-1-4-1): Carrasso (Montpellier); Bocaly (Mont-pellier), Baysse (Sedan), Dervite (Southend), M'Bengue (Toulouse); Capoue (Toulouse); Obertan (Lorient), Sissoko (Toulouse), Sankhare (Reims), Traoré (Portsmouth); N'Gog (Liverpool). Substitutes: Nimani (Monaco) for N'Gog, 60; Kembo Ekoko (Rennes) for Obertan, 62; Mollo (Monaco) for Traoré, 80.
Referee: B Nijhuis (Netherlands).