Pope Francis confesses he is torn between supporting Argentina or Italy in prestigious friendly
Argentina and Barcelona ace Lionel Messi meets with the Pope in the Vatican on the eve of a game to be held in his honour
Pope Francis accepts a gift from Argentina soccer legend Lionel Messi (right) and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during a private audience at the Vatican.
Yesterday was the day when the two most famous Argentines in the world came head to head, united by their common passion for football.
Argentina and Barcelona ace Lionel Messi met with Pope Francis in the Vatican yesterday morning at a Papal audience conceded on the eve of tonight’s prestige friendly game between Italy and Argentina, a game that will be held in honour of Pope Francis, a well known football fan and supporter of the Argentine club, San Lorenzo.
Addressing the members of both the Italian and Argentine squads, the Pope confessed that he would be in difficulty, not knowing who to support but he consoled himself with the thought that, “at least it’s a friendly”.
He also reminded the famous footballers gathered in the Sala Clementina of their responsibilities. “You, dear players, are very popular . . . not just on the field but also off the field. This is a social responsibility. When you are on the pitch, you represent beauty, team spirit and willingness . . . If these things are missing, then the game loses something even if your team wins,” he said.
Francis added that even if football has become a “huge business”, it is important that it not lose its “sporting character”, its “amateur attitude”. Only in this way can football avoid the problems of violence which occasionally afflict it and only in this way will the football stadium see the return of families.
“I call on the Good Lord to bless you and may the Virgin Mary look after you. And please, I ask you to pray for me so that I can play an honest and courageous game in the field where God has placed me,” he added.
Speaking after the audience, Messi conceded that this had been a very special day for him, adding: “I did not speak to the Pope myself, there were too many people but this was a very special day . . . I think his message to us is that, in these days of crisis, we can give a good example by showing respect on the field. I hope that tomorrow night’s game proves to be a good one.”
Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon also called it a “very special day” for him and all the other players, adding: “This was a very special day, one that we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli said that it had been a huge honour and that he had been in the right place, with the right man on the right day.