Football superstars including Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Diego Maradona will play a “Match for Peace” organised by Pope Francis at Rome’s Olympic Stadium tonight.
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. Former Italian Serie A Internazionale captain Javier Zanetti suggested the Vatican organise a sporting event for people of different religions.
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.
Former Al Ahly player Mohamed Abou-Treika turned down the Pope’s invitation because of “Zionist” participation, refusing to play alongside the Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun.
He announced on Twitter last month: “This is a photo for the match invitation which I turned down because of the Zionist state. Pardon us, we are raising new generations.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is due to referee the match, prompting complaints from fans that he will miss the tense final hours of transfer deadline day. To end at 11pm (BST) tonight, the deadline marks the end of the summer window during which teams finalise transfers for the upcoming season. Arsenal are believed to still be attempting to sign players before the deadline expires.
Above: Two international soccer stars, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon, applaud after a news conference at the Vatican on 13 August. Photo: CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters