February 27, 2008: First impressions can be misleading, especially before the start of a long campaign.
But there was something about JEF United Chiba at Fukuda Denshi Arena on Sunday that suggested this season might not be the struggle predicted by many after losing half their team in the winter.
There was an energy and a vibrancy about their play in the Chiba Bank Cup at home to Reysol, as if the players were out to prove a point.
Rather than the end of an era, it was more like the start of a new team, with opportunities for fresh faces.
After the game, new coach Josip Kuze acknowledged this factor, and reassured JEF fans that there was no danger of his team being at the bottom.
It might take some time, he said, but he had some good young players with a lot of potential and enough experience to build a "serious" team.
And, as anyone who was there could not fail to notice, they also have Eddy Bosnar.
At 1.91 metres and 88 kgs, the shaven-headed Australian central defender is a formidable sight, and packs a ferocious free kick with his left foot.
He endeared himself immediately to the JEF faithful in the crowd of 12,933 with some crunching tackles that seemed to surprise the Reysol players, and it will be interesting to see how referees react to his robust style this season. I hope they can differentiate between a foul and a hard tackle, and base their view on the challenge rather than the reaction of the rival player.
JEF, who have lost Mizumoto at the back and the midfield quartet of Mizuno, Sato, Hanyu and Yamagishi, will need Bosnar to paper over the cracks at the start of the campaign, as well as their experienced players such as Saito, prodigal son Sakamoto, the new leader Shimomura (my JEF MVP last year) and, when he is fit again, Maki.
In Maki's absence on Sunday, Kuze played a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Nakajima playing very deep in front of the back four, and Reinaldo the lone striker. One player Kuze has high hopes for is Kota Aoki, the Yasu High School product who started on the left side of midfield before moving up front.
Aoki, as we know from his days with Yasu and occasional J1 appearances, has a lovely left foot, and Kuze thinks he has the potential, at 20, to be a "great" player.
This is always the silver lining with JEF. Stars leave but their places are filled quickly, although admittedly not at the current rate of five at a time.
However, on the evidence of Sunday, when JEF missed six or seven injured players, the early signs are positive.