| Pope Francis receives a gift from Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi,
at the Vatican, on Tuesday. (Reuters) |
Vatican City: Pope Francis told the Italian and Argentine soccer teams that he could not decide whom to support in their friendly on Wednesday. But he urged them to set a good example in their behaviour both on and off the field.
“It’s a bit hard for me to decide whom to support,” Francis, an Argentine whose parents hailed from northern Italy, said ahead of the fixture, which has been organised in his honour, on Tuesday.
“It’s a good thing that it’s a friendly, and make sure that it really is,” the pontiff told the two sides who will play at Rome’s Olympic Stadium — their first meeting in 12 years.
“You might not realise it but for so many people who look at you with admiration, you are a model, for better or for worse.
“So be aware of this and give an example of fair play, respect and altruism” said the former Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who is an avid football fan.
“Here, in the Vatican, they tell me off for being indisciplined,” jested Francis, who is known for breaking with stiff Vatican protocol.
There had been speculation that the Pope would attend the match, which is the pick of a crop of international friendlies on Wednesday. But Italian coach Cesare Prandelli said that Francis had been advised against it by his staff. Argentine captain Lionel Messi, who will also miss the game with a muscle strain, said it had been “a very special day, an unforgettable one.”
“Two teams with a rich football history have the right to dream of a World Cup victory,” Gianluigi Buffon said at a joint news conference with Messi.