Football: Pope torn over who to support for Italy-Argentina friendly

Pope Francis receives a football as gift from Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (left) during a private audience at the Vatican on Aug 13, 2013. Pope Francis joked with Italy and Argentina players on the eve of a friendly football match in Rome on
Pope Francis receives a football as gift from Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (left) during a private audience at the Vatican on Aug 13, 2013. Pope Francis joked with Italy and Argentina players on the eve of a friendly football match in Rome on Tuesday, saying he was torn over who to support. --FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis joked with Italy and Argentina players on the eve of a friendly football match in Rome on Tuesday, saying he was torn over who to support.

"It's going to be difficult for me, it's lucky it's a friendly match! And let's make sure it is one," the Argentinian pontiff said in a private meeting, which journalists listened to over the speakers in the Vatican's press room.

The players, along with Italian coach Cesare Prandelli and Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, met the 76-year-old at the Vatican before Wednesday's game at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

The pontiff, a lifelong fan of Argentinian club San Lorenzo, called on the teams to make sure they used their popularity to give a good example to their fans.

"You, dear players, are very popular. People follow your example, off the pitch as well as on. You have a social responsibility," he said.

Among those present was AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who is often in the headlines for his behaviour on and off the pitch.

The players presented the pope with a personalised shirt from each team with his name on it, as well as a silver vase from the Argentinians and an olive tree from the Italians.

"Please pray for me, so that I too, on the 'pitch' God has placed me on, can play an honest and courageous game for the good of everyone," the pope said at the end of the meeting.

Fans in Singapore can catch the match live on mio TV Ch111 on Thursday at 2.40am.