World Cup 2014: Will Argentina win? Is the pope a Catholic?

World Cup final between Argentina and Germany may strain relations between popes Francis and Benedict in the Vatican

The unprecedented cohabitation of two popes in the Vatican has been characterised by tact and mutual respect. But the question is whether the cordial relations between popes Francis and Benedict can really survive a World Cup final between Argentina and Germany, their respective countries of birth.

While no one is expecting an outbreak of chanting between the two papal camps, surely there might just be a little frisson of rivalry? "Popes are superior beings" was the sober reply from the Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. "They always say the best [side] should win."

Lombardi conceded that he expected Francis to "at least inform himself of the result". Yet it seems more than likely that, come Sunday night, the Argentinian pope will be glued to the old-fashioned cathode ray TV that a recent visitor glimpsed in his modest quarters in the Vatican's guesthouse, the Casa Santa Marta.

A card-carrying member of the Argentinian Primera División club, San Lorenzo de Almagro, the pope is described on the club's website as an ardent fan. He granted one of his earliest private audiences – within a month of the start of his papacy – to the players and officials. And the club has published a letter to its chairman in which Francis reminisced about following the side as a boy through the "glorious" 1946 season when they won their third title. "What a goal from Pontoni!" he exclaimed.

Such spontaneous enthusiasm is not exactly the hallmark of his shy, intellectual predecessor. Father Lombardi said he thought it unlikely the German pope emeritus would watch the final.

But the author of such works as Das Problem der Dogmengeschichte in der Sicht der katholischen Theologie is said to favour Bayern Munich. And several Bayern players, including Neuer, Boateng, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Müller, are likely to play.

After the Italian and Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon visited the Vatican last year, he remarked that he had not expected to find as many fans there – "and by that I mean real fans", he added. The Vatican has its own football competition and the longest-reigning pope of modern times, John Paul II, was a respected goalkeeper in his youth.

When Sega released the 2012 version of Football Manager, they sneakily included code to enable the company to track the internet addresses of everyone who pirated it. Of the 10 million copies ripped off, one was found to have been cloned in the Vatican. The company did not disclose whether the computer used was nearer the Casa Santa Marta or the Mater Ecclesiae, the former nunnery to which Benedict retired last year.


John Hooper in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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