Samir Nasri described his equalising goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina as "the most important of my career" after his second-half penalty sent France to Euro 2012.
The Manchester City midfielder's 78th-minute spot-kick allowed the hosts to salvage a 1-1 draw at Stade de France that kept them top of Group D and enabled them to qualify for next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
A photograph of Nasri's jubilant celebration adorned the front page of Wednesday's L'Equipe and he admitted that he had made progress since being dropped by Laurent Blanc for the 0-0 draw in Romania last month.
"Yes, I've come a long way," he told reporters.
"I came back with a different state of mind. I'm on the same wavelength as the coach and you can see that on the pitch."
Despite qualifying for their ninth consecutive major tournament, France came desperately close to being consigned to the play-offs by an enterprising Bosnia side who took a 40th-minute lead through Edin Dzeko.
The hosts looked nervous and lacked composure in a desperate first 45 minutes, but Nasri said they could take heart from their second-half revival.
"Despite the fact we're a young team, we showed that we were capable of reacting," he said.
"We played with a weakened squad and we qualified without some of our first-choice players, which bodes well for the future.
"Now we have six months to prepare ourselves in matches without pressure, in which the players can play freely.
"We lack a bit of experience, and shared experience, but there's no reason for us to lower our eyes in front of other teams."
Striker Kevin Gameiro described France's first half as "catastrophic" and none of his team-mates struggled as much as Adil Rami, who was given a torrid time by the imposing Dzeko.
The Valencia centre-back was awarded a rating of 3/10 by Wednesday's edition of sport daily L'Equipe and conceded that the Manchester City striker had given him serious problems.
"With Dzeko, it was very hard," admitted the former Lille defender.
"He's a very good player with his back to goal. In the first match (a 2-0 win for France in September 2010), I was pretty much on top of him, but tonight it was more delicate."
Despite his own difficulties, Rami was keen to emphasise how far France have come under Blanc, who succeeded the unpopular Raymond Domenech after Les Bleus' disastrous World Cup in South Africa last year.
"Fifteen months ago, there we were, nearly all new, and we've made a lot of progress already," said Rami. "Sometimes you have to suffer in order to grow.
"Maybe (qualification) will enable us to cut loose. We'll see in the friendly matches."
Florent Malouda, a member of Domenech's squad in South Africa, said he was conscious of the need to build bridges with the French fans.
"It had been a long time since we'd done a lap of the pitch here," he said.
"It's nice to share things with the fans."
On his side's celebrations, he added: "There were two bottles of champagne in the changing room. They disappeared quickly."