Football fan pope cheers Lionel Messi and other players

Messi said there were so many people at the gathering that he didn't get any private time to talk with the pope, who vigorously shook hands with each player.

updated: August 14, 2013 00:12 IST
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Vatican City: Pope Francis cheered fellow Argentine Lionel Messi and other soccer stars on Tuesday as he led a morality-focused pep rally of sorts at the Vatican for Argentina and Italy's national teams ahead of their eagerly awaited friendly match.

Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, is an avid soccer fan who roots for the Saints of San Lorenzo back in Buenos Aires. Since his election as pope in March he has accumulated a growing collection of soccer jerseys tossed to him by fans at his public appearances. He got two more on Tuesday: an Argentine and an Italian team jersey, each one signed by the players.

Barcelona star Messi, his teammates on the Argentine national soccer squad, as well as Italy's national team players were treated to a private audience with Francis in the Apostolic Palace ahead of Wednesday's rare match, which is being played in tribute to the new pope.

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