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In Italy, church and culture collide in national soccer madness

ROME – From the outside, you might think the most talked-about thing in Rome right now is Pope Francis in the Gemelli Hospital, with various theories making the rounds that he’s actually worse than the Vatican is saying, that his surgery for diverticulitis of the colon wasn’t actually “planned” as they claimed, and so on.

In truth, you’d be wrong.

Romans have lived through papal health scares before, and they’ve got a sort of sixth sense about sniffing out the truly serious. For right now, most people here seem to be assuming this is par for the course for an 84-year-old male and aren’t getting their noses out of joint.

On the other hand, every Roman you meet right now, whether in the supermarket, or a cab, or a restaurant, or a tobacco shop, or wherever, has just one question for you: What do you think is going to happen Sunday night?

The reference is to the epic final of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament, which pits Italy against England after a month-long process that whittled 24 teams down to two. Perhaps not since the English Reformation have Italy and England squared off against one another in quite so dramatic a fashion.

Both teams have survived stern challenges, from extra time to penalty kick shoot-outs. The English national team hasn’t won a major championship for 55 years, but they’re playing at home in Wembley Stadium, while Italy is playing for a country which, after the economic and social dislocations of the coronavirus, badly needs a lift, and for which soccer (or calcio, as the Italians call it) is a national obsession.

Read more at Crux

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