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They really excel at cross passes

Times Staff Writer

The Vatican has a soccer team in the 2007 Clericus Cup, a 16-team tournament to be held in Italy beginning in February.

It’s still uncertain whether the squad will be good enough to reach the final, scheduled to be played in Rome in June, but early scouting reports say the Vatican has a prayer of a chance.

According to the Italian Sports Center website, “The Clericus Cup [is] an occasion for all those enthusiasts, and former players -- who are in seminaries today, attending university, studying to be a priest -- to put themselves back in the game, dribbling, making saves and headers.”

But the Vatican has soccer ambitions well beyond the Clericus Cup.

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Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told journalists in Rome on Sunday that he envisioned the Vatican someday putting together “a football team of great value, that could play on the same level as Roma, Inter Milan and Sampdoria.”

Cardinal Bertone is an avid Juventus supporter and often provided local television commentary on Sampdoria games while Archbishop of Genoa. He said the Church’s seminaries and Catholic youth clubs around Italy were full of talented players.

Vatican FC might have some tough times playing on the road against the best Italian teams, but it figures to own the greatest home-field advantage in the world.

Here’s a player who could help

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According to the BBC website, “There are really only two questions that need to be answered about this future Vatican team.

“The first is whether it should really be competing in the domestic league -- it is, after all, the world’s smallest state.

“And then, of course, there is the football calendar. There might be some difficulty in fielding a team on a Sunday.”

Actually, there is a third question.

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Would the Vatican soccer team be interested in Eddie Pope?

Trivia time

Pope John Paul II played soccer in his youth. What position did he mostly play?

NBA: Newest Boxing Assn.

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Say this much about the NBA: The league knows its audience.

At the end of a news release chronicling the numerous fines and suspensions resulting from Saturday’s brawl between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets, the league’s publicity staff added this bright promotional kicker: “Tune in to ABC on Christmas Day as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the defending champion Miami Heat!”

Still, it will cost him 15 games

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash was raised in Canada and reared on a national sport sometimes confused with boxing on ice.

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Given his upbringing, it’s not surprising that Nash was unimpressed with the punch thrown by Denver’s Carmelo Anthony at New York’s Mardy Collins.

“Typical NBA punch,” Nash told the Toronto Globe and Mail. “In hockey, your own team would beat you up for that.”

Trivia answer

Goalkeeper.

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And finally

Florida Coach Urban Meyer tells the Associated Press it isn’t easy being an Ohio native assigned to play Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

“You walk into my home now and there’s a picture of Woody Hayes,” said Meyer, who was raised in the Lake Erie town of Ashtabula. “There is -- a big one too.

“I don’t want to tell you I genuflect in front of it, but darn close. That’s the way I was raised.”

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mike.penner@latimes.com


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