Laurent Blanc, the coach of Bordeaux, is cautious about proclaiming a revival of French fortunes, but one club from the nation that invented European competition is guaranteed a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time for six years. Yesterday's quarter-final draw pitted Bordeaux, the French champions, against Lyons, the country's most successful club over the last decade, with the winners to face Manchester United or Bayern Munich for a place in the last four.
France last had two clubs in the quarter-finals six years ago, when Monaco went on to lose to Jose Mourinho's Porto in the final. Lyons, the other French representatives that year, were also the last to reach the quarter-finals, in 2006.
Blanc has guided Bordeaux to the last eight for the first time for 22 years but says talk of a French revival is premature. "The French league is in a good state, but to confirm that we'll have to give it time and see how regularly French clubs make the quarter-finals in Europe," he said.
The fate of the French illustrates how the 1996 Bosman ruling shifted power towards Europe's bigger clubs. In the seven seasons from 1989-90 French clubs reached the European Cup semi-finals six times. Since then only Monaco have done so, in 1998 and 2004.
Bordeaux, the pre-eminent French club in the mid-1980s, won their first league for 10 years last summer, ending Lyons' run of seven titles. Blanc, coach since 2007, has transformed the club's fortunes, thanks in no small part to the form of Yoann Gourcuff, a talented playmaker, and the Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh, who is regularly linked with a move to Arsenal. Nevertheless, the Girondins' European success has coincided with a slump in their league form. At the winter break Bordeaux were 10 points clear but now lead the table only on goal difference.
Lyons, who are fifth but just two points behind the leaders, pulled off one of the results of the season with their win over Real Madrid last week. Given their recent European pedigree they will start as favourites, though Claude Puel, the coach, thinks Bordeaux have the advantage as they play the second leg at home.
Puel, who has not won a trophy since taking over at Lyons two years ago, has been forced to rebuild after the departure of stalwarts like Grégory Coupet, Juninho and Karim Benzema. He has spent heavily, £21m on the Argentinian striker Lisandro Lopez from Porto, and has continued with Lyons' policy of buying domestic talent. His signings include Hugo Lloris, the France goalkeeper, and the striker Bafétimbi Gomis, who joined for £13m from St Etienne.
The squad has taken time to blend, but Puel believes he is on the right path. "We're making progress. This group of players are writing their own history."