Pope's football team on verge of a title victory

Last updated 08:48 13/08/2014
Gianluigi Buffon and Pope Francis
Reuters

FOOTBALL FAN: Pope Francis accepts a gift from Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

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Pope Francis' favourite football team is on the verge of winning its first major international title.

Argentine club San Lorenzo was due to host Paraguayan rival Nacional tonight in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final. The teams drew 1-1 last week in the first leg in Paraguay.

A home victory would secure the most important trophy in San Lorenzo's 106-year history.

Both sides have yet to win the Latin American club competition

Tonight's hosts made headlines around the world after Pope Francis acknowledged that he was an avid supporter of the club.

When San Lorenzo won the league title in Argentina last year, the pope hosted the team in the Vatican and even hoisted the trophy in St. Peter's Square for all to see. He also reminisced about going to the stadium as a child with his father to watch the team play.

Francis followed football closely and has built an enormous collection of jerseys since his election after meeting with many visiting teams.

Before the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany in Brazil, he gave his word that there would be no papal intervention in Argentina's fortunes, promising he wouldn't pray for any team. Germany eventually won 1-0 in extra time.

San Lorenzo, a 12-time Argentine champion in its 12th Copa Libertadores, had an impressive run on its way to the final, eliminating clubs such as Gremio and Cruzeiro, the defending Brazilian champion.  

Meanwhile, their Paraguayan opponents were not nearly as popular as country rivals Olimpia and Cerro Porteno. The 110-year-old team was in the final for the first time.  

San Lorenzo had one of the biggest fan bases in Argentina. Club officials had to anticipate the sales of tickets for tonight's decisive match after several thousand fans started lining up days before the ticket centres were scheduled to open.

The team's only international titles so far were the 2001 Copa Mercosul and the 2002 Copa Sudamericana, both second-tier competitions in South America.

''I have no doubt that we will come out victorious with the help of 50,000 of our fans,'' said Ignacio Piatti, who would not be allowed to play tonight after transferring to Major League Soccer team Montreal Impact.

Nacional, which scored late in the first leg to avoid a defeat in front of its home crowd, would be without defender Ramon Coronel because of an injury, but midfielder Marcos Riveros would be back after a suspension.

''We will have the same fighting spirit,'' Nacional coach Gustavo Morinigo said.

''This match will be just as hard as the first one.''

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- AP

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