PARIS - Winning back the trust of the fans has proved to be a long and difficult process for France following the training ground strike that shamed the nation at the last World Cup.
The incredible scenes of joy at the final whistle when France beat Ukraine 3-0 in October - overturning a 2-0 deficit from the first leg — underlined just how much this meant to long-suffering fans.
France's display on that tense night will go down in the nation's football folklore, and rightly so. It was full of the flair, passion and sheer exuberance once a hallmark of the team that won the 1998 World Cup, the 2000 European Championship and reached the World Cup final in 2006.
As the Stade de France crowd sang at the final whistle, the players joined in and unity was restored. Now, France heads to Brazil with relatively little pressure in the role of dangerous outsider.
France failed to win a game four years ago in South Africa and scored only one goal. This time it stands a good chance of winning Group E ahead of Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, and avoiding a possible second-round encounter with Argentina.
Following the retirement of Zinedine Zidane after the 2006 final, France lacked leadership and invention. The team was a fading force in South Africa, with Thierry Henry on his last legs, and others like Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka failing to live up to their reputations.
The current side looks far more cohesive and team spirit has genuinely been restored under coach Didier Deschamps, who has players approaching peak form.
Striker Karim Benzema is finally fulfilling his potential and has been superb for Real Madrid in recent weeks, while 21-year-old Paul Pogba is one of the most highly coveted midfielders in world football. Add the creative spark of Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, the tenacious midfield tackling of Blaise Matuidi and the crisp passing of Yohan Cabaye and France has enough quality to threaten most teams.