Photos: Messi, Balotelli Meet Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Reigning World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi has had a VIP meeting at the Vatican with the first Latin American-born Pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.

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Lionel Messi and Azurri Skipper Giggi Buffon at the Vatican.

Ahead of Wednesday night’s friendly match between Argentina and Italy in Rome, players from both sides enjoyed a private audience with the Pope at the Apostolic Palace.

Controversial AC Milan and Azzuri striker, Mario Balotelli, who has withdrawn from the friendly encounter after suffering a knee injury in training, was also present.

 

Mario Balotelli meets the Pope yesterday in Rome with the rest of the Italy squad

The Pope told the players to remember they are not just role models on the pitch, but away from the pitch and as such should try to lead by a good example “for better or for worse.” We are yet to see if Balotelli understands that.

The Pope also urged the players to pray for him “on the playing field God put me on,” admitting sport has become a big business.

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Both Sides’ Players Welcomed the First Latin American Pontiff to a Rousing Ovation.

The friendly match has been scheduled for Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

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