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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 December 2006, 19:54 GMT
Vatican plays down soccer 'joke'
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Young people play football in front of St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
The cardinal said amateur matches were the way forward
A senior Roman Catholic cardinal has quashed media speculation that the Vatican might form a team to play in Italy's top football league.

On Monday the Pope's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Church seminaries and Catholic youth clubs in Italy had many talented footballers.

He envisaged a team clad in yellow and white, the Vatican's colours, that could challenge famous league clubs.

But he now says that he was only joking when he made the suggestion.

'Future is amateur'

The Vatican's Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, got football fans here excited when he speculated that the Vatican might create its own professional football team of the same calibre as Roma, Milan or Genoa.

The Holy See has just announced it will take part in a new amateur tournament called the Clericas Cup, limited to young men studying for the priesthood in Rome.

But now, in an interview with Vatican Radio, the cardinal, a keen football fan who used to give the odd TV commentary on local games when he was Archbishop of Genoa, has dampened down speculation that the Vatican may join top league competitions.

"I was only joking," he said.

He added that the future was only in amateur matches like the competition played this week between the Pope's Swiss Guards, maintenance workers from Saint Peter's Basilica and Vatican museum security staff.

The Vatican has in fact twice fielded a side to play in yellow and white shirts - against national teams from other mini-states such as Monaco and San Marino.

Both matches ended in a goalless draw.

Speculation about the Vatican's interest in football may have been sparked by a recent Italian television advertisement featuring football in paradise.

"Matches played in heaven are special," the commentary runs. "Everyone's a winner and the Vatican always plays at home."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone says he received a call from UEFA

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