FRANCE will ride into their World Cup quarter final against Germany in Brazil this evening on a wave of support back home.
But the turnaround in public opinion for Les Bleus has astonished experts.
As recently as October last year, French players were regarded as “overpaid”, “coarse” and “self-centred”, according to a poll published in Le Parisien at the time.
Eight months later, after they qualified for the World Cup finals with a dramatic comeback in their two-leg play-off over Ukraine, the situation is very different.
The players are now regarded as “motivated”, “talented” and “friendly” according to a survey conducted a few days ago. Nearly one in five (19%) of those asked even said that France could win the World Cup in Brazil.
Les Bleus have recaptured the hearts and minds of the French people.
Albrecht Sonntag, said in a columnist for Le Monde.fr: “It is quite extraordinary. The team must be the envy of a lot of government cabinets!”
Both he and Sportlab agency founder Gilles Dumas attribute a lot of Les Bleus recent on- and off-field success to manager Didier Deschamps.
Mr Dumas said: “The star of the team is Deschamps.
“This team is a collective again.”
Mr Dumas points to the manner of the French qualification for the World Cup finals as a key factor in the rehabilitation of Les Blues in the minds of the French public.
He said that qualification for South Africa 2010 was tainted by the manner of the play-off victory over Ireland, when the winning goal was awarded after the referee missed a clear handball by Thierry Henry.
But he described their play-off victory over Ukraine last autumn, when they turned around a two-goal deficit in the two-leg play-off, as “beautiful”.
“They booked their ticket to Brazil with panache, having hit rock bottom,” he said.
French international football had been in the shadows for some time. The hand of Henry was preceded by a player revolt at the 2010 finals, when they notoriously refused to get off their team bus for a training session. Previously, Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup finals had hit the national side’s fortunes.
Things are different now. Both Mr Sonntag and Mr Dumas believe that public affection for the current side will last long after the tournament in Brazil - possibly even to the European Championships in 2016 which will be held in France.
“This team does not need to win to be loved,” Mr Dumas said. “Defeat with panache not destroy the World Cup for the French, it has been successful, no matter what.”
And Mr Sonntag said: “They have an image of a team looking to the future, to Euro 2016.”