They are still a disjointed group but the development of young stars such as Paul Pogba and Raphaël Varane helps to distance France from the problems that soured the last World Cup
Once the heady cocktail of euphoria and relief wears off, the real fascination about France's qualification for Brazil 2014 will be dissected in private conversations at the headquarters of the French Football Federation. Just what, exactly, do they want to achieve from their World Cup experience next year?
Aside from the obvious aims to go as far as they can and hopefully present a significantly more harmonious image than the explosive rebellion they managed last time out, the question of whether the World Cup needs to be part of a bigger picture preparation for the 2016 European Championship finals, which will be held in France, requires serious consideration.
This is not a vintage France team. For all that Didier Deschamps would have felt overjoyed to be given the bumps in the centre circle by his players and staff come the triumphant final whistle against Ukraine, the coach knows that standards are below the level he experienced in that very arena, with that same 3-0 scoreline, as a World Cup winning captain.
Make no mistake, France have enough talented players to think they should be making some kind of positive impression in Brazil, but the impetus to gather as much momentum as possible ahead of a tournament on home soil – where expectation to perform will be intensely magnified – is important.
France have a crop of young players whose integration into the national team will next year become a subject for debate. A handful of promising ones have been serving a long ban from the international scene after they were punished for an unauthorised night-out in Paris when on under-21 duty.
Soon Antoine Griezmann, the tricky Real Sociedad winger, M'Baye Niang, the powerful Milan striker, and Yann M'Vila, the midfield anchor, will become available again. Potentially, all of them could be part of an exciting new generation, so the decision whether or not to give them big tournament experience in Brazil (and if so, at whose expense) needs careful deliberation.
It was notable that the two youngest players Deschamps called upon to overcome Ukraine on an emotional Paris night were highly influential. Paul Pogba, the powerful and silky Juventus midfielder, was outstanding. To see such composure and comfortable passing craft at the age of 20 it was reasonable that the man he is compared to, Patrick Vieira, lavished him with praise. Raphaël Varane, one of five key changes made by Deschamps to inspire the turnaround against Ukraine, was calm and secure. The Real Madrid defender is just 20, but also radiated a strong sense of serious determination.
There was a real insight into his character glimpsed through the cameras in the tunnel before the game. As the teams lined up, it was Varane, the youngest member of the team, who made a point of going up the line of players to give a bear hug of encouragement to each team-mate.
The development of the new generation – and the clear public enthusiasm for them – helps to distance France from the problems that soured the World Cup in South Africa.
In the elation of a World Cup qualifiation that answered critics with an upbeat and motivated performance, France hope this can mark a new dawn. "I hope that this is the start of something," said Mamadou Sakho, the hulking Liverpool defender who was on the spot to make the difference to steer in two of France's required three goals, although one was recorded as an own goal in the end.
"It's beautiful. It's amazing. The team demonstrated a lot of virtues," he added. "In this shirt, we can't forget what we represent. We saw the whole stadium behind their team and a team who gave everything for the shirt."
Over the qualification campaign as a whole, finding the right blend to make the whole better than the sum of France's parts has been a challenge. As the play-off showed, there is an erratic quality to this squad – they were bland in Kiev and boisterous in Paris. Establishing a coherent system – and even settling on a best XI – has been hard going for Deschamps. In the end, though, they had enough individual quality and competitive spirit to come through against a Ukraine team that wilted under pressure in the return leg and played most of the second half with 10 men.
Deschamps could be particularly pleased that all five changes he made to the team that struggled a few days before made an impact. Mathieu Valbuena buzzed around to excellent effect, cajoling and calibrating moves. The midfield balance with Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi patrolling with perpetual motion and bite around Pogba showed a significant improvement on the passiveness of Kiev. Karim Benzema scored the third goal (even if it was offside Ukrainian complaints felt half-hearted as the Real Madrid attacker had seen one cancelled out wrongly for offside moments before).
In overturning a two-goal deficit from the first leg of a play-off for the first time, France showed that they had mettle. The front page of the next morning's L'Equipe was a simple admission that the team deserved all the plaudits for dealing with a difficult situation. A one-word headline: "Respect". It is something Les Bleus do not always provoke, but in this instance, it was beyond doubt.