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World Cup final pits pope against (former) pope

Published: Friday, July 11 2014 10:30 a.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, July 9, 2014 file photo, soccer fans of the Argentina national soccer team wear masks with faces of Pope Francis and Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi during a live telecast of the soccer World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and Netherlands, inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Vatican says it is unlikely that Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, would get together to watch their home teams in the World Cup final on Sunday. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Thursday, July 10, 2014 that the hour of the final is late for Francis' routine, and acknowledged with a chuckle that Benedict wasn't known as an avid sports fan. Still, he didn't rule anything out, saying, "we'll see in the coming days." Pope Francis has already given his word that there would be no papal intervention in Argentina's fortunes, promising he wouldn't pray for any team. German-born Benedict's interests are known to lean more toward intellectual than athletic pursuits.

Silvia Izquierdo, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The World Cup has produced a significant amount of religion news over the past month, especially for an event that was supposed to focus on futbol, not faith.

First, there were humanitarian efforts from Brazil's churches. Then, official World Cup prayers published by the Church of England. And, most recently, Buzzfeed's promotion of goalie Tim Howard to the position of America's "Savior" (in spite of a U.S. team loss.)

And now, just days before the tournament's end, the World Cup has created yet another story for religion reporters: the two finalists, Argentina and Germany, are the home countries of the Catholic Church's current and most recent popes.

"Maybe this just means God has a really good sense of humor," CNN's Daniel Burke quipped.

Argentina was linked to Pope Francis throughout the tournament, with supporters even adjusting the team's roster to include the faith leader in a popular Twitter post. Although an avid futbol fan, Pope Francis pledged neutrality at the start of the World Cup, The Daily Beast reported.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's native Germany is favored to win the big match, but the former Catholic leader hasn't been following the team's advancement. "Benedict's interests are known to lean more toward intellectual than athletic pursuits," the Associated Press reported.

Noting how late the game will air in its time zone, "The Vatican says it is unlikely that Pope Francis and his predecessor … would get together to watch their home teams," AP announced. However, the unlikelihood of a papal viewing party hasn't deterred reporters who are eager to write about the coincidence.

In its coverage of "the holy war," The Daily Beast reported that players should be on their best behavior during the final match if they seek the approval of the holy men. "Both popes have referred to sportsmanship as a conduit to holiness," the article noted.

Religion News Service published a roundup of faith-related facts about each country. "The religious makeup of the popes' countries are very different, with Argentina skewing Catholic while Germany has a much higher percentage of nonreligious people," RNS reported.

The Internet buzz, compiled with the #holywar hashtag, is expected to continue throughout the weekend. The final match is slated for 1 p.m. MST on the Christian religion's favorite day of the week: Sunday.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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