Italy wants Argentina friendly dedicated to pope

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.