Are the bad days behind France?
France's World Cup campaign in South Africa last summer will go down as one of the most ill-fated of a major football nation but coach Laurent Blanc appears to have finally got his players and the French public to focus on the future rather than the past
The noises emanating from Les Bleus' training camp at Clairefontaine in the last few days have been positive ones. Harmony, at least on the surface and in public, has been restored. Pulling on a French jersey has become fun again rather than a chore, according to captain Alou Diarra.
After the 1-0 home defeat by Belarus which opened their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, some wondered whether Blanc had really been the right choice to succeed the much-maligned Raymond Domenech.
Since then, however, Blanc's team have rattled off three straight wins to stand on top of their group.
Admittedly, a couple of those performances were hardly of the vintage of the famous French teams of the Zidane-Deschamps era, but perhaps that was always too much to ask just a few months after everything fell apart so dramatically.
Nevertheless, the signs are definitely now there that this is a French team growing in stature and that could be contenders at Euro 2012, a point of view supported by their 1-0 win over Brazil in February.
Yes, Brazil played the second half with 10 men but nevertheless, there were periods when France shone, in particular Jeremy Menez down the right flank.
Credit also has to be given to Karim Benzema, who has been looking the part for both Real Madrid and France in recent months, benefiting from shrewd psychology of both club coach Jose Mourinho and Blanc.
The forthcoming fixture list should enable Blanc to consolidate his progress so far.
A visit to Luxembourg on Friday night should see France add to their points tally in their qualifying group and they then have a series of friendlies which will allow him to make some gentle experiments.
Croatia visit the Stade de France next Tuesday and France are then away to Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine and Poland on 6 and 9 June, three games which will provide a perfect opportunity to have a look around at who has done well in the second half of the season and introduce a little new blood 12 months ahead of the next major tournament.
Ribery was given a three-match ban after the World Cup squad returned home and injuries have kept him out of more recent French squads, but it is significant that Blanc has been prepared to restore the Bayern Munich player despite the emergence of Roma's Menez.
On Monday, Ribery faced the press at Blanc's insistence after refusing to talk to them for many months. Apart from a mild tirade at the French media's intrusion into his private life, he mainly said all the right things.
"I've not been afraid of returning to the French team, I saw Laurent Blanc about three or four months ago and then I saw him after last week's match against Inter. There has been much discussed, and it made me feel much better. I want to thank him because returning to French team always been a dream," said the penitent forward.
"I want to draw a line under the past, I've made mistakes, both in my private life and as a footballer, but I was touched by the support I received from Blanc, he made it clear that he really wanted me back in the fold."
Perhaps under Blanc, Ribery can revisit his halcyon era of 2006 to 2008 when he was indisputably one of the best wingers in the world.
When fit, he has always seemed to respond on the field to a coach that gives him a bit of love and the relationship between Ribery and Blanc seems to be an affectionate one.
Ribery (left) and Patrice Evra are both back in favour with France - photo: AP
Blanc admitted earlier this week that he still isn't sure how he is going to use Ribery.
"There will be a discussion. He started with the national team on the right, where he was very impressive. He prefers the left wing, which makes sense because that is where he plays for his club," he said.
However, Chelsea's Florent Malouda has featured on the left side of the French attack in recent matches and Blanc added: "I believe he [Ribery] can play anywhere across the attack. He is capable of beating his man no matter what area of the pitch he is in."
If Ribery makes the starting line-up, it might be at the expense of Lyon's Yoann Gourcuff, who is struggling to fulfil the promise shown in recent seasons and is having a mediocre time with both his club and country.
Blanc started with Gourcuff against Luxembourg last October and also Brazil but he put in two erratic performances. Friday may see him on the bench.
Along with Ribery, Blanc also recalled Patrice Evra for the first time since the World Cup.
In the Manchester United left-back's case, after being banned for five matches after leading the World Cup revolt as the team captain and then being overlooked by Blanc for the Brazil match, his selection was more a forced one owing to Barcelona's Eric Abidal being unavailable following surgery on a liver tumour.
Evra may go straight into the starting line-up - and his United form certainly warrants it - but Blanc has made it clear that he will not regain the captain's armband, now worn by Diarra.
Luxembourg is often described as the 'crossroads of Europe' and maybe on Friday night it will turn out to be the crossroads where Blanc and the French team finally turn a corner after the events of last summer.
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