Beckham received the biggest cheer of the night on Wednesday when he was substituted after 63 minutes, the Stade de France crowd giving the world’s most famous footballer a standing ovation to mark his 100th cap.
But, in truth, there was little else to get excited about as Fabio Capello suffered his first defeat as England manager and James was reminded of one of his worst moments in a Three Lions shirt.
It was James who brought down Thierry Henry for the penalty in injury time which saw England beaten 2-1 when they last faced France at Euro 2004.
This time James sent Nicolas Anelka tumbling for the first-half spot kick which Ribery dispatched to send England to another defeat.
What did Capello learn?
That Wayne Rooney struggles to play up front by himself for England. That England’s defence is prone to inexplicable lapses of concentration.
That Beckham, who picked up another booking to garnish a career of highs and lows, can still cross a ball brilliantly but that the legs, knocking 33, do not carry him to the the places they once did.
That Capello’s England seriously lack creativity in midfield. Not much different from Sven-Goran Eriksson’s lot if the truth be told.
And that was hardly surprising really when you consider that eight of the starting line-up had played in the World Cup defeat against Portugal back in 2006.
Capello, it is true, had given them a new vision. To play with no fear. To play for their country as they do so creditably on such a regular basis for their clubs.
To restore pride in the shirt bearing Three Lions.
And there was no lack of effort. But Capello clearly has much work to do if England are to reach the World cup qualifiers in September with a settled structure and renewed confidence.
England began brightly enough and might have taken the lead after 14 minutes when Ashley Cole flashed in a dangerous cross which France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet could only palm away and Beckham, racing in, failed by a smidgen to nudge home what would have been a fairytale goal.
Steven Gerrard then shot high and wide and followed it up with a header just over from a Wes Brown cross.
But while England were not without a modicum of threat the quality belonged to the men in blue.
Ribery, in particular, was a controlling influence in midfield and the slickness of the French triangles he engineered was pleasing on the eye.
Things began to go seriously awry for Capello’s men after 32 minutes when Francois Clerc’s through ball ripped open England’s defence, leaving Anelka in a huge swathe of space and bearing down on James.
The much-travelled Chelsea striker has never been short of pace and he reached the ball first, toe-ending it away from James before being sent cartwheeling spectacularly across the turf by the unfortunate goalkeeper.
German referee Florian Meyer took the easiest decision of the night, pointed to the spot and Ribery dispatched the penalty with some comfort before ripping off his shirt to reveal a tribute to French TV sports presenter Thierry Gilardi, who was due to commentate on the match but died suddenly this week at the age of 49.
It was Ribery, the undisputed star at Bayern Munich this season, who was again at the centre of the action when Beckham received the yellow card.
He picked up the ball, sprinted away from Beckham and the only way Los Angeles Galaxy man could stay with him was to hitch a lift on his shirt tail.
The inevitable booking ensued and Beckham once more had embroidered his celebrity with incident.
Just to prove that some of the old magic still remains, however, he then sprayed a 50-yard pass to Gerrard which sent ripples of applause around the stadium.
Half-time saw Capello ring the changes with John Terry replaced by Joleon Lescott, with Stewart Downing coming on for Joe Cole, Peter Crouch for Gerrard and Michael Owen for Rooney.
It was Owen’s first action under Capello but he had little opportunity to convince the Italian of his sharpness.
Indeed, if Capello was looking for a more vibrant England, a team who passed accurately and played with a mixture of patience and high tempo, then little of that was on show at the Stade de France.
England’s travelling army were left with just their memory of Beckham – and the night he joined Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and 125-cap record-holder Peter Shilton as a member of the 100 club.
The rest was instantly forgettable.