JEF United Chiba fired manager Josip Kuze on Wednesday, a day after the Croatian insisted the club wanted him to stay in the job.

JEF crashed to a seventh-straight J. League defeat with a 3-0 mauling by Urawa Reds on Tuesday, sparking speculation Kuze would walk away from the job after only four months in charge.

Japanese newspapers reported before the match that Kuze would quit if his side lost at Saitama Stadium, with the Chiba side having taken just two points from its opening 10 matches of the season.

But Kuze dismissed the rumors after the game, saying the club’s hierarchy was backing him in his bid to turn the slump around.

“I didn’t say that,” he said. “I was talking within the club, and they said no way. They want me to stay.

“We are thinking positive. It is good to analyze things after the game against Oita (on May 17) because then we have a break (until June 29). I want to say I can make that, but I have demands to make a good team.”

Kuze also insisted he had the support of his players.

“The players are happy I am here,” he said. “We have no bad atmosphere — we have a good working atmosphere. I think it is OK in the dressing room, with the coaching staff and in training.”

But Kuze’s comments came just minutes after captain Tomi Shimomura had painted a very different picture of a dressing room fractured by infighting and critically short of self-belief.

“Today was the most quiet day (in the dressing room),” Shimomura said. “When we had the ball today, I felt we had 10 players, not 11. When Urawa had the ball it felt like we had 10 players. Most players had no confidence.

“After the game two weeks ago against Yokohama, some players started an argument and I had to stop it. This year everything is broken.”

JEF has fallen hard since the days when former national team manager Ivica Osim was in charge, and the club offloaded the last remnants of his dynasty in January when it sold no fewer than five Japan internationals.

Kuze demanded in recent weeks that the club sign four players, and the Croatian gave a withering assessment of his defenders after Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Takahito Soma and Edmilson scored three second-half goals to consolidate Urawa’s position at the top of the table.

“We have no intelligence in defense,” Kuze said. “With soccer intelligence you can make a compact defense, and I think reading the game is a problem. We need one leader in defense.”

Kuze ruled out a return for former players Ilian Stoyanov and Hiroki Mizumoto, both of whom left the club within the last year, but now the club has a bigger hole to fill.

Which manager JEF will turn to is anyone’s guess, but Kuze found a supportive voice in Urawa manager Gert Engels, who took over at Reds when predecessor Holger Osieck was himself the victim of a sacking just two games into the season.

“Of course I can sympathize,” Engels said before Kuze’s dismissal was announced.

“He comes from zero because the team has lost a lot of players. He is alone without foreign assistant coaches.

“Of course it is not easy. It is not just that they lost players — they changed their whole coaching staff and the president.

“It is very difficult to work after Osim. It was an era, and to rebuild after this is not easy.”

Pope greets Inter

Vatican City AP Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Inter Milan team Wednesday to mark the Italian club’s 100th anniversary.

Inter, which is trying to secure a third straight Serie A title this weekend, joined the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s weekly audience.

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