Pope Francis congratulates Italian soccer team on win against Roma

CNA_5ab27f32479a0_141909_1.jpg Pope Francis gives a thumbs-up at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on March 21, 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis met on Wednesday with players of the northern Italian soccer club Spezia after they eliminated the fourth-seeded A.S. Roma from the country's annual cup competition.

"First of all, congratulations, because yesterday you were good. Congratulations!" the pope told them at an audience in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 20.

Spezia Calcio, a professional soccer club based in the town of La Spezia, joined the top Italian league Serie A for the first time in its history in 2020.

The 13th-seeded Spezia's 4-2 win on Tuesday in the Coppa Italia against Roma -- one of Rome's two big clubs -- puts them in next week's quarter-finals, where they will play against Napoli.

Pope Francis said, "in Argentina, we dance the tango," pointing out that the music is based on "two-by-four," or two-quarter time.

Referring to their result against Roma, he added: "Today you are 4 to 2, and that's good. Congratulations and keep going!"

"And thank you for this visit," he said, "because I like to see the effort of young men and women in sport, because sport is a wonder, sport 'brings out' all the best that we have inside. Continue with this, because it leads you to a great nobility. Thank you for your witness."

Pope Francis is a well-known soccer fan. His favorite team is San Lorenzo de Almagro in his native Argentina.

In a 2015 interview, Francis said that in 1946 he went to many of San Lorenzo's games.

Speaking to the Argentine online sports news site TyC Sports, Francis also revealed that he played soccer as a child, but he said he was a "patadura" -- someone who is not good at kicking the ball -- and preferred to play basketball.

In 2008, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he offered Mass for players at the team's facilities to mark San Lorenzo's 100th anniversary.

In 2016, Pope Francis spoke at the opening ceremony of a Vatican conference on sports.

He said: "Sport is a human activity of great value, able to enrich people's lives. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, she is working in the world of sport to bring the joy of the Gospel, the inclusive and unconditional love of God for all human beings."

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