An inferior goal difference meant the Young Lions had to win in Saint-Lo to reach the summer tournament in Greece.
France 2-1 England
UEFA U19 European Championship
Elite Round Qualifier
Tuesday 31 March
Louis Villemer, Saint-Lo
But they had it all to do after Sehrou Guirassy prodded Les Bleus into the lead on 31 minutes.
And England’s Euro hopes were well and truly dashed when Gnaly Cornet struck a second goal early in the second half.
Patrick Roberts pulled a goal back late on but his team-mates could not complete the comeback.
With Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Harry Winks returning from suspension and Leeds United’s Lewis Cook returning to his club through injury, O’Driscoll reverted to the same starting lineup that defeated Denmark 3-2 in the opening qualifier.
The match began as an extremely cagey encounter, not helped by the swirling wind.
On the rare occasion a high ball did beat the wind, Abdou Diallo’s long punt forward from centre back released Guirassy.
But Charlton Athletic defender Joe Gomez was on-hand to barge the striker off the ball as he broke into the area.
It was a first half of few chances and Patrick Gonfalone’s side needed a touch of good fortune to break the deadlock just after the half-hour mark.
The ball was worked towards the far post where the Neal Maupay hit a shot back across goal through a crowd of bodies. Guirassy stuck his foot out and directed the ball away from Angus Gunn and into the corner.
Brown came close to equalising as the break approached, but, as Demarai Gray flashed a ball across the six-yard box, the skipper, on the stretch, could only direct his shot over the top.
Maupay, the provider for France’s first goal, was involved in their second too.
He played the ball out to the left wing where Cornet had found space. The Lyon youngster’s low, angled drive went in off the near post despite Brendan Galloway’s best efforts.
The Everton defender was far more successful with his next intervention, as he got back well to deny Cornet a second goal with a well-timed sliding tackle inside the area.
Clear chances were at a premium but good work in midfield by the impressive Loftus-Cheek allowed him time and space to feed Roberts who was breaking into the right-hand side of the France box.
The Fulham forward produced a calm finish into the far corner to halve the deficit on 79 minutes, but England were unable to find the other two goals required.
England (4-1-4-1): 1 Angus Gunn (Manchester City); 2 Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City), 6 Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic), 5 Brendan Galloway (Everton), 3 Ben Chilwell (Leicester City); 4 Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur); 7 Patrick Roberts (Fulham), 8 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), 10 Charlie Colkett (Chelsea), 11 Demarai Gray (Birmingham City); 9 Izzy Brown (C; Chelsea).
Substitutes: 12 Ola Aina (Chelsea) for Smith-Brown 76, 15 Bradley Fewster (Middlesbrough) for Colkett 82
Substitutes not used: 13 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United), , 16 Alex Kiwomya (Chelsea), 17 Aaron Kuhl (Reading), 18 Robert Dickie (Reading).
Goals: Roberts 79
Bookings: Colkett 58, Aina 83
Head coach: Sean O’Driscoll
France: 1 Florian Escales, 2 Angelo Fulgini, 4 Mouctar Diakhaby, 5 Abdou Diallo, 6 Olivier Kemen (C), 7 Gnaly Cornet, 8 Samed Kilic, 11 Neal Maupay, 12 Sehrou Guirassy, 13 Alex Blin, 14 Lucas.
Substitutes: 17 Lucas Tousart for Kilic 46, 15 Benjamin Pavard for Kemin 67, 9 Ulrich Nnomo for Guirassy 84
Substitutes not used: 16 Bingourou Kamara, 3 Nicolas Senzemba, 10 Kingsley Coman, 18 Lyes Houri.
Goals: Guirassy 31, Cornet 50
Bookings: Maupay 25, Kemen 45
Head coach: Patrick Gonfalone
Referee: Marco Guida (ITA)