Competing in Rome:
The fans were pious. The players bound for glory. And the victory? A miracle.
Priests and seminarians from several soccer-loving countries took to a field near the looming dome of St. Peter's Basilica yesterday for the first match of the Clericus Cup, a tournament fielding 16 teams from Catholic institutes in Rome.
"You are playing in view of St. Peter's cupola, so behave well," admonished Cardinal Pio Laghi before giving the official kickoff at a small arena on a hill overlooking the Vatican.
In Italy, soccer is a hallowed game, taken almost as seriously as Catholicism, and the players were all business once the whistle was blown.
Amid screams from the coaches, pious slogans from the small crowd and T-shirts invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary, a motley crew of Latin Americans, Africans and Asians from the Collegio Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church College) took on an all-Brazilian team fielded by the Gregorian University.
In a miraculous upset, the young Mater Ecclesiae players trounced the more experienced but portly Brazilians 6-0 as their fans chanted: "The Mother of the Church wants a goal!"
Still, in the end it was all handshakes and smiles between the teams, in what officials and players hope will set a good example for Italian professional soccer, which has been recently marred by fan violence and scandal.