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Argentine fans celebrate with a picture of Pope Francis at the end of the semi-final football match between Netherlands and Argentina of the FIFA World Cup at The Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014. / Odd Andersen, AFP/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY - Holy soccer!

For the first time ever, the two teams facing each other in the World Cup final will each have a living pope in their corner: Pope Francis' Argentina against Pope Emeritus Benedict's Germany.

The last time there were two living popes was in 1296, precisely 634 years before the first World Cup was played in 1930. (Besides, the two 13th-century popes were both from the same country, Italy.)

But don't count on either seeking divine intervention on behalf of his team. Pope Francis is a lifelong fan of the Argentine San Lorenzo soccer club and, even as pontiff, is known to follow the team's fortunes. However, he has already promised not to pray for Argentina to win.

Benedict played soccer as a youth and has touted the sport as a way to instill the values of "honesty, solidarity and fraternity" in young people. But he also is refraining from using his connections to give the German team a spiritual edge.

"Both would want the better team to win, without taking sides," said Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, tactfully responding to the question of whether or not the Vatican might be the site of some friendly ribbing between the current and former pontiffs.

Lombardi even hinted the two men might not even watch most of the game, given that its late hour - it will get underway at 10 p.m. Vatican time - is around the time both Francis and Benedict go to sleep.

In any case, Lombardi said, even if one or both decide to tune in, it's "unlikely" they would watch the game together.

That hasn't stopped speculation on that front. Souvenir sellers near the Vatican have been peddling World Cup-themed trinkets ever since Argentina slipped by the Netherlands to join Germany, which walloped host Brazil a day earlier, in the hotly anticipated final.

Vatican experts predict Sunday's general audience in St. Peter's Square will feature more than a few soccer-themed banners. And on social media, the rivalry has spawned its own Twitter hashtag: #HolyWar.

Visitors to the Vatican before the final said they would follow the game without taking into account the pope from each country.

"I don't want to think about the disappointment of either Francis or Benedict cheering for the losing side," said Carlo Massarini, a 41-year-old security guard. "For many of us, soccer is like a religion, and so maybe we should keep it separate from real religion."

Oliviero Pantani, 31, a youth soccer coach, took a similar view.

"Ever since Italy was eliminated I stopped praying for any specific result and have just asked for good, clean, entertaining games," Pantani said. "I'm sure the two popes are above rivalries and that they pray for the same."

This will be the third time Argentina and Germany (West Germany at the time) met in the World Cup final.

In 1986, Argentina beat the Germans 3-2 led by the hot foot of famed striker Diego Maradona. Four years later, Maradona fell short and the Germans won 1-0 in a game played in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, just two miles north of the Vatican City.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: World Cup: Germany, Argentina each have pope in corner

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