France completed one of football's greatest comebacks on Wednesday - whatever the outcome of Sunday's World Cup final against Italy in Berlin.
Win or lose, their incredible turnaround from the depths of despair following their humiliating first-round exit as defending champions in 2002, plus their uninspired start to this tournament, is the stuff of sporting legend.
Their transformation from tired-looking, over-the-hill has-beens to potential world champions in the 17 days since their 1-1 draw with South Korea in Leipzig on June 18 to Wednesday's 1-0 semi-final win over Portugal is just amazing.
Zinedine Zidane, who will play the last match of his glittering career in Sunday's final symbolises their re-birth, and together with Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira heads to Berlin in search of a second World Cup winner's medal.
Eight years ago in the World Cup they hosted, a place in the World Cup final always seemed a possibility. Just eight days ago another appearance in football's biggest game seemed an impossible dream.
Hard to believe
It now seems hard to believe that after France drew their opening Group G match 0-0 with Switzerland in Stuttgart on June 13, they had failed to score in four successive matches in the finals - their last goal coming when they beat Brazil 3-0 to win the World Cup in Paris eight years ago.
Five days later little had improved, allowing the Koreans to snatch a 1-1 draw in Leipzig after Thierry Henry had finally ended the goal drought in the ninth minute of that match.
Had they failed to beat Togo, France would have finished behind Switzerland and South Korea and gone out in the first round again. But goals from Vieira and Henry in a 2-0 win over the Africans meant they survived at South Korea's expense.
There were flashes of their old magic in that match, but more importantly, France were re-discovering their self-belief, even though Zidane was suspended and did not play.
He returned against Spain, a reincarnation of his old self. He had an outstanding match, forcing France back into the game after trailing and then capping a superb performance with the magical final goal in their 3-1 win.
It was as if the French had awoken from a terrible dream. Suddenly it seemed like it was 1998 again and France were playing like one of the best teams in the world.
The stunning win over Brazil in Saturday's quarter-final match was the champions' first defeat in the World Cup since they lost to France in the 1998 final, earning them a place in Wednesday's semi-finals with Portugal.
Wednesday's match itself was a tense one, but France never seemed in much danger of losing it after Zidane scored what proved to be the only goal with a 33rd minute penalty.
In danger of missing the final if he received a yellow card, Zidane was the epitome of dangerous elegance with a ball at his feet. He looked strong, creating space and chances, and glided through the match to take his place in Sunday's final.
Zidane, along with Thuram and Claude Makelele all announced their international retirements after their failure to retain their European crown in 2004, but came back to help the side after a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
That recovery was a fairly remarkable one in itself.
Their turnaround here almost defies belief.
Source: China Daily