Pope Francis is a big soccer fan. He’s also a pretty big deal, so when the Argentine-born Roman Catholic leader issued a call for an inter-religious soccer match for peace, the big names came out.
One of those big names is Diego Maradona — pictured inset, arguing with a referee at said charity match — who is among the best players to ever step onto a soccer pitch but also a controversial figure who described his handled goal that beat England as the “Hand of God”.
So, the players were in place — both theatrically and athletically — for a classic Maradona moment, and the 53-year-old obliged slightly after his side, Scholas Occurrentes, fell to Javier Zanetti’s side by a 6-3 score.
“Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona said. “Pope Francis is much more than Maradona. He is the real outstanding star. … I grew apart from the church because I thought it wasn’t doing enough for the needy, but with Francis it’s different.”
Pupi got back into the match with a penalty from former AC Milan great Andriy Shevchenko, who doubled his tally late on.
Tomer Hemed netted the equalizer and Mauro Icardi scored a hat trick.
Martino and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger put together teams featuring Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist players. The star-studded lineups included past and present players such as Carlos Valderrama , Diego Simeone, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon.
For his part, Pope Francis explained his desire for the event in a pregame meeting with the players:
“I thank you because you immediately adhered to my desire to see champions and coaches from various countries and different religions facing each other in a sporting match, to demonstrate fraternity and friendship,” Francis said in his audience with the players.
“Tonight’s match will certainly be an occasion to collect funds and support, but above all to reflect on the universal values which football and sport in general can promote: loyalty, sharing, welcoming, dialogue, trust in the other. It’s about values which joins every person regardless of race, culture and religious belief.”
Tata Martino and Arsene Wenger were the managers, and “put together teams featuring Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist players. The star-studded lineups included past and present players such as Carlos Valderrama , Diego Simeone, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon. Paolo Maldini, Samuel Eto’o and Andrea Pirlo were on the bench but did not play.”