For awhile there, it looked like it might be France vs. Ireland all over again.
Les blues had sputtered to a 1-1 draw at the Stade de France on that unforgettable night of Nov. 18, doing just enough to seal passage from the two-leg playoff into the 2010 World Cup finals, but ruining reputations in the process.
Thierry Henry's blatant handball had led to a William Gallas equalizer (1-1) on a night when France were outplayed, out-hustled, and outperformed by the visiting Irish. They were through to the World Cup on a 2-1 aggregate thanks to Nicolas Anelka's deflected strike in the away leg four nights earlier in Dublin, but in the most unconvincing of fashions.
Yet everything had supposedly changed since that fateful match nearly two years ago. New manager Laurent Blanc, taking over from the hapless Raymond Domenech, had overcome a rough beginning to his campaign (losses to Norway and Belarus) to lead his charges on what has now become a 15-match unbeaten run.
France needed only a point from Tuesday's match to finish top of Group D and earn the automatic bid into next summer's European Championships, ahead of second-placed Bosnia.
But from the kickoff, everything seemed wrong.
Bosnia were immediately on the upper foot, with in-form Manchester City striker Eden Dzeko looking menacing in front of goal. Their game plan was impeccable, bossing the French midfield and dictating play.
For the bulk of the first half, the visitors outplayed France to the chagrin of the Stade de France faithful, who must have wondered if they were to see their team slip to yet another disappointing performance in the stadium that had once witnessed the '98 side win the World Cup final.
Dzeko had missed a couple gilt-edged chances during the first half, but when he received a pass around the periphery of the France penalty area in the 40th minute, his considerable class finally won out.
The Bosnian made no mistake in curling an unstoppable drive past keeper Hugo Lloris into the top corner of the net. Just as Robbie Keane had fired Ireland ahead in that playoff return leg, Bosnia had stunned the 80,000 in attendance into silence. If the scoreline remained in the visitors' favor, France would be headed once again into a playoff to earn passage to a major championship.
They stadium didn't remain muted for long, however, sending the home side off at halftime under a rainstorm of boos.
Blanc, who had spent most of the first half standing on the touchline looking furious, made an impact with his halftime talk. Whatever its intents and purposes, the former World Cup and European Championship winner fired his side back into life upon the restart.
France progressively became the better unit in the second half, with winger Jeremy Menez looking industrious on the flanks and Marseille striker Loic Remy making inroads toward goal. Samir Nasri had a free kick pushed off the bar by Begovic, but there was no goal to allay frayed nerves in Saint-Denis.
It wasn't until the 78th minute that France finally got their much-needed equalizer. Nasri, thoroughly muted throughout much of the match after being in such fine form on Friday against Albania, showed his considerable talent in turning Bosnian (and former Montpellier) defender Emir Spahic inside-out with a lovely bit of trickery on the edge of the penalty area.
Clearly beaten, Spahic inexplicably tripped Nasri in what was judged to be just inside the penalty area.
Dzeko's club teammate at City made no mistake from the spot, wrong-footing keeper Asmir Begovic and firing his shot into the net. The ensuing celebration was catharsis personified, with French players releasing nearly 80 minutes of pent-up frustration. They were on their way back into a major tournament.
France would continue their assault over the final ten minutes, running riot on tired Bosnian legs, but the job was done. They would avoid another tricky playoff that had so thoroughly destroyed sense of hope in 2009.
With the final whistle, the French could finally relax after a long-winded European qualification that had seen them start so poorly.
They had come full circle, however. On Sept. 3, 2010, France failed to come back against Belarus, slipping to a 1-0 defeat. On Tuesday, they showed a sense of toughness that had long been missing from the side.
It's the type of ne'er-say-die attitude that fuels the world's best teams. France certainly aren't at that level just yet, but they made a strong move in that direction on Tuesday.