It seems increasingly improbable for a late developer to make his way from football's lower reaches on to the international stage. Little wonder Olivier Giroud compared the moment he effectively planted his flag at the top of his own footballing mountain to an "explosion of joy".

The France striker had once been invited to Clairefontaine in his youth, to a training camp for under-16s. But it took him a decade to be called back.

During that time he spent most of his burgeoning career outside of France's top division. He was an apprentice with Grenoble, then moved to Istres and Tours, before finally stepping up to Montpellier. The move, during the summer of 2010, when Les Bleus covered themselves with embarrassment at the World Cup, did not cause much of a stir. Giroud was seen as a cheapish gamble for Montpellier. Nothing more.

Today, Giroud is the toast of France. His face adorns the front pages of newspapers hailing an excellent result for Les Bleus, who made a statement by beating Germany away from home. Giroud, who is currently the top scorer in Ligue 1 and recently had the club president getting all excited by putting a €60m (£50m) figure on his head, scored the opening goal on his full debut for the national team, a smart strike to finish off a rampaging run and cross from another relative latecomer to the international circuit.

Lille's Mathieu Debuchy at times played as if he was doing an impression of the effervescent Brazilian right-back Cafu. He put down the kind of marker that gives Laurent Blanc a selection dilemma with Bacary Sagna now back to fitness. Nice problem to have.

There was something symbolic about that goal. France went into the game intent on showing they could return to competing with the best, and the fact they could do so thanks to fresh faces, with unblemished reputations, added to the feelgood factor. The likes of Giroud and Debuchy in many ways represent everything that the French need from their football team at the moment. They are not bigheads. They are not bigmouths. They are not big earners. They appear to be nothing like the stereotype of the players who brought shame to the national team with their behaviour at the last World Cup.

The coach was entitled to feel that things are bubbling along nicely. Although there have been some difficulties behind the scenes, with the absence of any contract extension beyond the finals this summer causing a little instability and suggesting a lack of faith in his regime, his players gave the impression they fully backed his ideas in Germany.

Even the likes of Franck Ribéry, Samir Nasri and Florent Malouda (who scored the second goal) played – and acted – much more unselfishly than was the case even six months ago.

This is not a France team to make the heart sing, but frankly, after all the shrieking discord and bum notes that came out of their last tournament, a solid-looking team that has enough organisation, determination and zest to defeat Germany away is not to be sniffed at. "Candidats!" enthused the front page of L'Equipe.

The management, and the players, have witnessed far too many fiascos in recent years to take anything for granted. Jérémy Ménez summed up the mood, though, by saying this win felt like "a reference point" for the team. "We showed we can rival the best teams, although we mustn't draw conclusions too quickly," added Nasri. France clearly did more than just preserve an unbeaten run that stretches back to autumn 2010, when the fallout from their ruinous World Cup campaign was still being felt.

Blanc confirmed afterwards that everyone who took part in this win had "scored points". Giroud certainly offers something different – a tall, physically imposing player who is technically able, he ensured Germany's defenders did not enjoy themselves. Karim Benzema will probably resume position when he returns to fitness, but it would be interesting to see if Blanc fancies trying out a Benzema-Giroud partnership at some stage before the Euros kick off. Loïc Rémy is another whose rapport with Giroud might be interesting. "He is a real target and gives us a variation. We really felt his impact," said Malouda.

France might have had better individuals going into the last World Cup, but they have a more obvious sense of team now. It is something Blanc has been working on for the best part of two years. Notably, England's new manager will have to do something of a crash course in advance of these two nations meeting in Donetsk in June for the opening game of Group D.

As for Germany, Jogi Löw and his squad have made enough progress in recent years to keep this upset in perspective. You could argue that it might not do them too much harm to have their confidence pricked in advance of the tournament – a timely reminder that they cannot play at anything less than full tempo. "Expectations in Germany are extremely high in light of our recent results. So maybe it is not such a bad thing to suffer this setback now," mused the defender Benedikt Höwedes. "It might help dampen expectations a little bit."

Germany in full swing might have been a different proposition for France and this was Germany in comparatively sluggish mood. They were missing some key performers and had a slightly experimental lineup, which clearly affected their rhythm. They produced enough flashes to ensure that Hugo Lloris, France's new captain, had a memorable evening, but struggled to turn on the style.

"When you lose a game, you are annoyed. However, I am more annoyed at how we lost it," reflected Löw. Something to chew on in the weeks ahead.