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The Vatican has lined up a football dream team to play an “interreligious match for peace” at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on 1 September.
Catholics involved include Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi, Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, former Italian Serie A Internazionale captain Javier Zanetti and Andrea Pirlo.
They will be joined by retired midfielder and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane (a self-professed “non-practising Muslim”), and Buddhist convert Roberto Baggio.
Japanese defender Yuto Nagatomo and Samuel Eto'o, a Cameroonian forward, will also be playing.
The idea for the match came out of a meeting between Pope Francis – a huge fan of the game – and the Argentine and Italian teams in August 2013 following a friendly match organised in Francis' honour. Zanetti suggested the Vatican organise a sporting event for people of different religions.
Tickets will be available for the match from 25 July, and all the proceeds will be donated to a schools network set up by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences and supported by Messi and Buffon called Scholas Occurrentes, and to the PUPI Foundation, a children’s charity in Buenos Aires set up by Zanetti and his wife Paula.
Above: Messi and Buffon met the Pope in a private audience in August before the Argentina-Italy friendly set up in Francis' honour. Photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters