Football fan Pope meets Argentine and Italian squads

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Media captionPope Francis meets the Argentine and Italian football teams

Footballers in Argentina's national team, including star player Lionel Messi, have met fellow Argentine Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Italy's squad was also there, ahead of a friendly match in Rome on Wednesday.

The pontiff said the players should pray for him to "play an honest game on the pitch that God had put him on".

Messi - out of the match owing to injury - said afterwards that players could spread the Pope's message by "always playing a beautiful game".

The players gave Pope Francis a shirt from each team with his name on it. The pontiff received a silver vase from the Argentines and an olive tree from the Italians, as well as a signed football.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (l) and Argentina's striker Lionel Messi were among those to meet the Pope
Image copyright AP
Image caption The Italian team posed for a family photo inside the Vatican
Image copyright AP
Image caption A personalised Italian team shirt was presented to the Pope
Image copyright AP
Image caption Lionel Messi said the Pope's message of respect and humility was the right one

Papal caution

The Pope urged members of both teams to stay out of what he called the violence and money often attached to the game."Football has become a business. Take care that it does not lose its sporting nature," he said.

Pope Francis supports the Saints of San Lorenzo team in his hometown of Buenos Aires.

He would not be drawn on whether he would support Argentina or Italy on Wednesday.

"It will be a bit difficult for me to cheer for one team, but fortunately it is just a friendly match and may it really be like that, I hope", he said.

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