Already looking towards Euro 2016
21 November ~ The morning after France's 3-0 World Cup play-off win over Ukraine, sports daily L'Equipe ran a one-word, banner headline on its front page: Respect. It's been more like mutual loathing between the players and media in recent seasons, with reports before the game suggesting 82 per cent of French people had a "bad opinion" of the national team, but France's second-leg comeback may usher in more harmonious relations. In the 24 hours following Les Bleus' remarkable victory, early signs of reconciliation emerged.
TV journalist Pascal Praud had been scathing after France's 2-0 first-leg defeat in Kiev and was initially defiant on news channel i-Tele after the 3-0 triumph. Praud refused to withdraw his critical comments but the night after the win he cut a more relaxed figure on Canal Plus. Smiling about the number of Twitter followers that had mocked him for writing off the players too soon, he left the platform with an "Allez la France!"
Alongside its Respect headline, L'Equipe declared France's performance on Tuesday night the national team's finest since the 2006 World Cup: "A page has been turned, and the one that opens leads not to Rio de Janeiro but to France. In 2016, the European Championship will be held here. That will be a tournament for Mamadou Sakho, Raphaël Varane, Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye, Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi. [National team manager] Didier Deschamps' genius was to hand them the keys last night."
In keeping with the mood of reflection, journalist Clément Guillou suggested far too much had been demanded of the national team in the first place. On website Rue89.com he said: "The side has been surrounded by irrational expectations since 1998. It's the country's lack of football culture and a fantasy image of the national team that provoked the huge public disappointment that followed France's 2-0 defeat to Ukraine, a side that is higher in FIFA's rankings."
Guillou also dismissed the theory players don't care about the national team, the fall-back line after every defeat. "When France lose, it's not because they don't try. It's never a question of desire. But the players can be prevented from expressing themselves because of other emotions that overwhelm them: fear, an inability to focus, not being close enough to perform to their best.
Guillou may be right about France's lack of football culture, but this week proved Les Bleus still matter: 13.5 million viewers tuned in to TF1 to watch the game. That made it the biggest audience for an international qualifier since France's infamous encounter with Bulgaria almost 20 years ago to the day. A 2-1 defeat that night cost France a place at the 1994 World Cup. This time, they're going – and may finally have some of the media on their side. James Eastham