They may have stumbled slightly towards the end, but the unbeaten German national team have enjoyed one of their best-ever years. Joachim Löw's task now is to attempt to achieve the impossible: perfection.
Joachim Löw left the pitch with a smile and a satisfied nod to the gathered journalists. Seconds earlier, substitute Lars Stindl's injury-time equalizer had secured a 2-2 draw with France and preserved Germany's unbeaten record in 2017 – a fact that Löw knows will overshadow what was for long periods an uninspiring clash with one of the World Cup favorites. Confed Cup? Check. Unbeaten? Check. Mission 2017? Accomplished.
At the end of a successful year, it's time to take stock. And with the national team not gathering together again until the March friendlies against Spain and Brazil, there's ample time to allow the events of the past year to sink in.
It was a year in which Germany delivered a series of commanding, disciplined performances and in which, even in the absence of a major tournament, Löw has succeeded in maintaining the necessary level of tension in the squad. Whether by selecting a squad of young, hungry players for the Confederations Cup or by carefully re-integrating absentees after injury layoffs, the coach has evidently developed a knack for fostering both harmony and competition in the squad. Besides tactical finesse and individual quality, this is the most important factor in the team's success.
A year of experimentation
It means Germany have now gone 21 games unbeaten since their Euro 2016 semifinal defeat to France in Marseille. Since then, Löw's teams have played consistently good – sometimes very good – football to come through qualifying unbeaten.
2017 was a year of experimentation and trial and error. 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1? An out-and-out striker or a 'false nine?' Youth or experience? But every experiment had the same ultimate goal: Putting together a squad capable of defending the World Cup in Russia.
The spine of the team is there and, despite the comparatively uninspiring recent performances against England and France, the conclusions we can draw from 2017 are overwhelmingly positive. The mini-title at the Confed Cup showcased the impressive depth that Joachim Löw has at his disposal and the long unbeaten run is evidence of the stability of the team.
So what's still missing? Not much, if we're being honest. A more stable center-back partnership, more clinical passing in midfield, a clear plan up-front – oh yes, and Germany's No. 1, Manuel Neuer. All the ingredients are there, Löw just needs to put them together and hope that injuries don't present him with any unexpected surprises.
What's better than good? Perfect
The road to success has presented Löw with an impossible task. After all, how do you improve on something that is already extremely good? The only aspiration left is called perfection – if that even exists in football. Football is a human game, played and orchestrated by humans who make mistakes. Even Toni Kroos is capable of making a bad pass. Even Manuel Neuer is capable of let a weak shot slip through. Joachim Löw's task now is to do all he can to reduce the chances of such mistakes happening and taking Germany as close to perfection as possible.
True, this is an impossible task, but it is one may even be capable of achieving.