The Italian Almanac

soccer fever

Soccer Frver

Soccer fever has taken hold at the home of the Catholic Church, with the Vatican's annual soccer tournament, the Clericus Cup, set to start. The competition, which pitches footballing priests and seminarians from different parts of the world into the fray on St. Peter's oratory ground, has grown in a big way since it was launched in 2007, both in terms of popularity and the standard of play. This year 351 players from 71 countries will take part, most representing Pontifical Colleges in Rome. They will wear the slogan Giocare per Credere (Play to Believe) on their shirts.

"Man discovers his true nature and the riches he possesses through play," Monsignor Claudio Paganini, the Clericus Cup president, told a press conference. "In play, as in faith, the impossible becomes possible." The 2012 tournament will begin with a rematch of last year's final between the holders, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Angelicum, who are also known as the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas and count John Paul II among their former pupils.

The sixth Clericus Cup will follow a format similar to Europe's premier club competition, the Champions League. There are four groups of four teams, with the best two in each qualifying for the knockout stage, which will culminate with the final on May 12. For the first time this year teams from outside Rome will be taking part with the entry of two Catholic colleagues from the surrounding region of Lazio. They are Viterbo's Istituto San Pietro, with Bolivian captain Marcelo 'Matador' Siles leading a team made up mostly of Zambians, and Montefiascone's San Vitaliano seminary.