Les Bleus were at an all-time low after the mutiny in South Africa, but the former player has won back the respect that disappeared under Raymond Domenech
After Florent Malouda wheeled away to celebrate France's first goal of what would be a straightforward victory over Albania, the tricolour flags that had been strategically placed in the lower tier were waved cheerily. The crowd even took part in a Mexican wave. It would be on the cynical side to suggest the French were trying very hard to evoke the feelgood factor. But cynicism has been a difficult emotion to shift during a campaign that follows the abomination of the 2010 World Cup.
When Laurent Blanc picked up the multitude of sharp pieces that Raymond Domenech left behind, there was so much repair work in his remit it was reasonable to expect it would take time for France to rebuild their shredded reputation. Even for a national hero, a saviour known as Le President, the job in hand was unavoidably complicated.
Consider Blanc's introduction to office: France were in a situation where the entire squad who had been part of the 2010 World Cup fiasco were banned. A national inquiry, which was more about behaviour than ball skills, was underway,. As for the matter of results, a team who had spent much of the previous decade in the top three of Fifa's world rankings slumped to 27th.
Blanc's first game, a friendly in Norway without any of the World Cup establishment, ended in defeat. Then the opening Euro 2012 qualifier, at home to Belarus, was also lost. But from such a demoralising position, Les Bleus have recovered, thanks to an unbeaten run stretching for 13 months. They are now in pole position to qualify for the European Championship, but effectively have to negotiate a cup final on Tuesday night.
Bosnia and Herzegovina visit Paris for a compelling climax to Group D. France currently sit one point ahead of the Bosnians. As long as they can avoid defeat they will go through, and send their opponents into the play-offs, but that is by no means a foregone conclusion. Safet Susic, the Bosnia coach, believes all the pressure is on the aristocrats. "We go without pressure, to try to create a surprise," he says. "If we lose, we have a place in the play-offs and that is already a success." They could not sound more relaxed.
France are not exactly in the same boat. Straight after Albania had been swatted aside 3-0 on Friday night, attention switched to the Bosnia question. Would the nerves get to them? Can they cope with so many key players on the sidelines? Is the fact a draw is enough a dangerous situation? "I find that view pessimistic," replied Blanc. "Our strategy is to win the match like always. We are not going to prepare to make a draw. That is the best way of losing." Samir Nasri had another way of dismissing a more cautious approach, reflecting, "We are not Italians."
Blanc has yet more injury issues to contend with as three of the starters against Albania – Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye and Adil Rami all picked up injuries to join the doubtful Eric Abidal. This is in addition to the number of influential players already sidelined, particularly Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry and Bacary Sagna. That's three quarters of the first choice back four, the most senior striker and most experienced midfield creator whose absences Blanc must work around for a critical game. On the plus side, the performance against Albania brought some helpful positives. The right-back Mathieu Debuchy had a faultless debut, Loic Remy was an attacking danger, Marvin Martin excited as a substitute, and Nasri answered some of his critics with a mature display.
Blanc has had to be very resourceful during his spell in charge of France. Probably more than he bargained for. He had to completely rebuild the spirit and soul of the squad, as well as bring the technical standards back up to scratch. He had to carefully re-integrate some of those excluded after the World Cup (interestingly, when Djibril Cissé came on against Albania he became the 15th of the shamed 23 to be recalled to the national team).
The fact his status was everything Domenech was not always worked in his favour. But then Blanc's position was weakened when he was caught up in a scandal after a meeting that discussed implementing race quotas in youth football was leaked. Despite a decent run of results, some of the team's old problems began to resurface. The bickering about whether Malouda or Ribéry got to play on the left, Nasri being dropped and airing his criticisms in public, getting away with ominously flat performances in Albania and at home to Romania …
There was one big reason France avoided the insults that came their way under Domenech: Laurent Blanc. He is still respected enough for the critics to hold back for as long as possible. By the looks of it he still needs a fair bit of time to create a team to genuinely bring back the feelgood factor, but qualifying for the Euros - preferably without the need for a play-off - would be another important step away from their South African nadir.