ROME (AP) — Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio were among a host of former soccer stars who played in an interreligious charity match backed by Pope Francis on Monday night.
The Argentine pope, an avid soccer fan, did not attend the match but had an audience with both teams earlier in the day and also broadcast a message on the big screens at Rome's Olympic Stadium ahead of kickoff.
The idea arose during an audience former Argentina great Javier Zanetti had with Francis last year and. As well as promoting peace, the game raised money for at-risk kids.
"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."
The two teams were named after Scholas Occurrentes — an educational entity launched by the pope — and Zanetti's Pupi foundation.
Pupi — managed by Argentino coach Gerardo Martino — recovered from two goals down at halftime to win 6-3 in an entertaining match.
Maradona played the entire 90 minutes and the highlight of the night was the Argentine legend's delightful lobbed pass that set up Baggio's goal. Baggio had earlier set up Juan Manuel Iturbe for the opener for Scholas.
Maradona is often called a sporting deity back home after leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title — having scored a goal against England in the quarterfinals that he famously credited to the "hand of God" after using his fist to push the ball into the net. He handed Francis an Argentina national team shirt before the game, and said he was awed by meeting the pope.
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