MUNICH • Germany were greeted by a heart-shaped flag formation in the stands when they walked out onto the pitch on Thursday and, while a patchy evening's entertainment will not bring the love back unreservedly, this may prove the night their rehabilitation began.
The 2014 world champions finished this match on top despite the 0-0 draw and were thwarted only by an outstanding series of saves by France goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, starting in place of the injured No. 1 Hugo Lloris and making his international debut.
While the friendly had not been the classic Uefa's suits might have sought from the Nations League opener, Germany coach Joachim Low will be sufficiently encouraged that 12 years' work did not completely unravel in Russia.
"We staged a good performance. However, we should have scored the one or the other goal against the world champions today. I am satisfied but there is still a lot to do," declared Low, in his first match in charge after their humiliating group-stage exit at the World Cup.
He had repeatedly preached the need for a sounder defensive balance in his post-World Cup confessionals, and his starting XI against the newly crowned world champions suggested those words had not been uttered for effect.
A defence composed entirely of specialist centre-backs spoke partly of deficiencies in the full-back positions but also suggested Germany's desire to hold firm.
France, their outfield selection unchanged from Moscow except for Lloris, had no reason to tweak anything and began according to type. But they looked to be nursing a post-World Cup hangover, lacking their usual speed and creativity.
Coach Didier Deschamps said: "It was a tight match. Obviously, the players are not at the peak at the moment but they gave it (their) all. Our goal was to win the game but we played a 0-0 in Germany which is still a good result."
Possession was willingly ceded to those in white - a mixed blessing for a German side that, according to Low, had seen too much of it in failing so abysmally during the summer. The diligence Low requested was evident but genuine creativity and variation, particularly from midfield, shorn of the recently retired Mesut Ozil, looked far off.
By half-time, France had come closest, with Manuel Neuer saving from Olivier Giroud's smart header off a delivery from N'Golo Kante.
After the break, Areola performed heroics to turn Toni Kroos' first-time effort behind with his fingertips - the closest anybody had come up to that time in the friendly.
Germany were buoyed and Areola found himself under an unforeseen bombardment, parrying from Mats Hummels, who had galloped upfield to join a counter-attack.
And his best save came 15 minutes from time when Matthias Ginter aimed a firm header towards his bottom-right corner, but the Paris Saint-Germain custodian's reflexes to paw it away were exceptional.
While Low's side had enough chances to win in the second half, they could not muster any more as the clock wound down, with the remaining interest lying in a cameo for the recalled Leroy Sane, who looked pleased enough to be there.
When that can be said for everyone connected to German football, the rebuilding may be complete.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN