Martedì, 23 Ottobre 2018
VATICAN CITY

Pope torn on rooting for Italy or Argentina

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Vatican City, August 13 - Soccer-loving Pope
Francis confessed Tuesday he is torn as to whom to root for in
the upcoming friendly between Italy and Argentina, his home
team.
"It will be a bit difficult for me when it comes to
cheering, but fortunately this is a friendly - and I strongly
advise that it truly remains as such," said Francis in an
audience at the Vatican with the two national teams.
They are playing in his honor at Rome's Stadio Olimpico on
Wednesday, something the Vatican says will help launch an
international schools network based on the pope's work as an
archbishop in Buenos Aires.
"Before you are champions, your are men first of all, human
beings, with your gifts and flaws, with your hearts and ideas,
aspirations and problems," the pope told the players.
"So even if you're famous figures, always be men, in sport
and in life. Men who display humanity.
"Please, I ask that you pray for me, so that even I, on the
field where God has placed me, can play the honest and
courageous match for the good of all of us".
The pope, a card-carrying fan of Buenos Aires club San
Lorenzo, told the teams soccer was a gift from God.
"I ask you to experience the sport as a gift from God, an
opportunity to make your talents bear fruit, but also as a
responsibility," he said..
Francis urged the players to remember that they were always
setting an example, for better or worse.
"With your behavior, on and off the field, in life, you set
an example," he said.
"For many who watch you with admiration, you are a model,
for better or worse," he added, inviting them to be an example
of "loyalty, respect and altruism".
Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said: "With such a pope,
it's easier to improve.
"He shows us the way, warms our hearts and shakes our
souls," said the Juventus skipper.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi, the world's best player,
who will miss the game because of injury, gave the pope a bit of
encouragement that was not game-related.
"I dare to hope that Christ illuminates your path for
children, the most vulnerable and those who suffer," Messi said
in a message he handed Francis.
Barcelona superstar Messi said he wanted to bring a
personal greeting, on behalf of his friends and family, to the
pope, to "encourage his work in wisdom, humility and sacrifice".
Francis went on to tell Italian soccer's temperamental star
Mario Balotelli, also out of the game because of injury, that he
too had been criticised for lack of discipline.
The pontiff came up with the trademark off-the-cuff remark
while contrasting Argentina's unruly scrum to meet him with
Italy's orderly queue.
"Here in the Vatican they scold me for being undisciplined
but you can see what country I come from," the pontiff quipped,
agreeing to a brief, separate meeting with Balotelli, whose
tantrums have eased since he joined AC Milan from Manchester
City.
The Ghanaian-Italian striker, who has become a symbol in the
fight to rid stadiums of racism, said Monday he had "something
important" to tell the pope about religion ahead of the match,
where he will not play because of a knee problem.
The Argentine pontiff has broken with starchy formalities
with his common touch and habit of making impromptu speeches
rather than reading prepared statements.
He is forging an image of a mould-breaking maverick with
efforts to take on cronyism and corruption in the Vatican
government and its scandal-plagued bank.
The friendly between the Azzurri and the pope's homeland was
organised to honour Francis after he was elected the first
pontiff from the Americas at March's conclave.
The Vatican said Tuesday there would be no last-minute
changes to Francis' inability to attend the match. Secretary of
State Tarcisio Bertone will be there instead.
"We all know the pope's got too much on his plate," said
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
The pope got a shirt with Messi's name on it from
well-wishers at a general audience in April, about a month after
his election to succeed Benedict XVI.
He was visibly delighted by the gift, a No.10 Barcelona
replica shirt.
San Lorenzo said last week that Francis pays "religiously"
to keep up his membership.
With Messi and Balotelli out, Argentine forward Gonzalo
Higuain, recently signed by Napoli, is probably the biggest draw
for a match whose sales have already passed the 20,000 mark
despite the usual heat-driven August exodus from the city.
After coming third in the recent Confederations Cup, where
they gave world champions Spain a fright before going out on
penalties in the semi-finals, Italy is looking to the match as a
handy test ahead of World Cup qualifiers in early September
against Bulgaria and Czech Republic, where they are widely
expected to clinch their place in next year's finals in Brazil.
The Azzurri are top of European qualifying Group B for the
World Cup with 14 points from six games, four more than
second-placed Bulgaria and five more than third-placed
Czech Republic.
They play the Bulgarians in Palermo on September 6 before
taking on the Czechs in Turin on September 10.

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