Lionel Messi to Lead Stellar Cast List for Pope Francis' Charity Match

Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi looks back as he goes up to get his runner-up medal after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Germany won the match 1-0. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Diego Maradona may have had the hand of God on his side in 1986, but it appears that Lionel Messi is in league with the Pope in 2014.

Marca reports that the Argentina wizard will feature in an inter-faith charity football match sponsored by Pope Francis, as confirmed by the Vatican.

The game is due to take place on Sept. 1 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The event will be filled with other great names from past to present. Italian legends Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon will feature, as will former Chelsea man Samuel Eto'o and Yuto Nagatomo of Japan.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane will also play, as will former greats Roberto Baggio and the recently retired Javier Zanetti.

Marca reports it was Zanetti who suggested the idea of a "sporting event that brings people of different religions together" to the Pope last year, when the Argentina team met the leader of the Catholic church.

Pope Francis is known to be a football fanatic and is a keen supporter of Argentine side San Lorenzo. Proceeds from the game will go to Scholas Occurrentes and Zanetti's PUPI foundation—the former an educational organisation supported by the Pope, the latter helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds, per Marca.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

The presence of Messi in the game should bring worldwide exposure to the event. If it proves a success, the match could surely become an annual fixture.

Zanetti recently spoke about Messi, per Rob Draper of the Mail Online, and said he always knew the player would become iconic:

In 2006 and 2010 we already knew he had enormous talent, but he was still young and had to mature. In the last three to four years he has grown a lot and is now the captain and takes more responsibility. It seems that this will be Leo’s World Cup.

Of course, it nearly was his World Cup, but Argentina were beaten in the final by Germany.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Despite the disappointment of the summer, Messi preformed well during the tournament. The 27-year-old scored four times in seven appearances for his country, per, also providing one assist.

Messi will surely be looking forward to getting back to club duties now after a hard year for Barcelona last term. With a new manager in Luis Enrique, there should be a renewed focus at the Camp Nou and a fresh determination to match the recent achievements of Real Madrid and La Liga champions Atletico.

The Argentina captain will once again be the fulcrum of the Barca attack with Neymar out injured and new signing Luis Suarez suspended for his actions in a Uruguay shirt.

The forthcoming charity match reminds the world that Messi's influence stretches much further than his mere importance to Barcelona.