Italy wants Argentina friendly dedicated to Pope Francis

Pope Francis, then Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, poses with a jersey from the San Lorenzo soccer club.

Lionel Messi's Argentina playing Mario Balotelli's Italy in a friendly dedicated to newly elected Pope Francis. That's something Italy coach Cesare Prandelli would like to see.

"We've played friendlies with all the best national teams, only Argentina is missing,'' Prandelli said Wednesday, a day after Italy's 2-0 win over Malta in a World Cup qualifier. "If we could arrange it, it would be nice to have an audience with the pope, who comes from Buenos Aires and loves football, and then go all together with both squads on one bus to the stadium. I couldn't dream of anything better.''

The hypothetical friendly would likely be held at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, a short drive from Vatican City. While no match is scheduled yet, Italy does have an open friendly date in August.

As it turns out, Italy's last match with Argentina was also a friendly in Rome, in 2001, which Argentina won 2-1. Before that, Diego Maradona's Argentina knocked host Italy out of the 1990 World Cup on penalties in a memorable semifinal match in Naples.

Prandelli's religious commitment is well known, as demonstrated when he led his entire coaching staff on 3 1/2-hour nocturnal pilgrimages to a monastery outside Krakow, Poland, during Italy's run to last year's European Championship final.

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