OSLO - Laurent Blanc has only just started the rebuilding process for a France side suffering the effects of a dismal World Cup campaign, yet the former defender saw plenty of cause for optimism despite losing his first game in charge.
Fielding an experimental line-up featuring not one member of the squad that failed to reach the second round in South Africa, France looked nervy in defence in Wednesday's 2-1 friendly defeat to Norway but showed plenty of enthusiasm and lively movement.
"We had a lot of things to do and little time to do it," said Blanc, who has taken over the coaching duties from the controversial Raymond Domenech with a mission to restore the 1998 World Cup winner's pride and reputation.
"We needed to put into place a playing system and a new philosophy and we needed to be competitive," said the former Bordeaux coach, who took plenty of risks by fielding six uncapped players in his starting line-up. "We nearly made it."
Some of the players who boycotted a World Cup training session in June after striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech should be back for Euro 2012 qualifiers against Belarus and Bosnia early next month.
Wednesday's match, however, proved relevant for several players who could well feature in Blanc's future plans, notably playmaker Samir Nasri and midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, who capped a skillful display with a great goal.
"What I can tell you is some of the players you saw tonight will play on September 3 (against Belarus)," said Blanc, who also witnessed convincing performances from central defender Philippe Mexes, his new captain, and young midfielder Yann Mvila.
France, who made several costly mistakes in defence, looked naive at times and were clumsy in front of goal, have a long way to go to recapture their place among the world's elite.
But there is room for hope for their fans, notably because the internal squabbling and scandals that were all too evident in the Domenech era seem to have disappeared already.
"It was a different spirit, a different mentality," said Mexes, who had a difficult relationship with Domenech and was rarely picked. "We hardly knew each other and after three days, we had the impression that we had been together for two weeks."
The biggest difference from the Domenech days, Mexes said, was a more open atmosphere with permanent discussion.
"There is more dialogue with the coach, with the staff, with everybody," he said. "Everybody is talking."
Mexes did not enjoy the result but realised there was not much to play for against Norway other than needing to start a new adventure and get rid of a miserable atmosphere that had marred the team for years.
"We had lots of fun," he said. "I'm both disappointed (by the result) and very happy."comments