Ahead of Wednesday's friendly between Italy and Argentina dedicated to Buenos Aires-born Pope Francis, the two sides come together to meet the pontiff at the Vatican. But only Mario Balotelli got the chance to speak with him privately.
From the AP:
One of Italy's national team members, Mario Balotelli, who is black and has been the target of fans' racism, was the only player to get private time with the pope. Francis and the striker spoke together in a small room off the sumptuous Clementine Hall where the audience was held.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Balotelli looked ''emotional'' after their talk but that the player declined to say what he discussed with Francis. On Monday, Balotelli remarked that perhaps the pope might offer him special greetings because of his birthday this week.
It's unclear if Pope Francis intended to have this private discussion. According to Football Italia, "Balotelli reportedly got up after the ceremony had concluded and went after the Pope into another room, where they spent several minutes talking privately." So this could have been Mario seizing the moment.
But what did they discuss that left Balotelli "emotional"? Did the pope bless his new pet pig? Absolve him of that time he threw darts at Man City youth team players? Or maybe they just discussed the upcoming album from Mario's friend Drake. The world may never know.
As for the other players, Leo Messi and Gigi Buffon presented the pope with a gift that he didn't seem particularly enthused about.
But getting to shake the hands attached to the spiritual power that is Andrea Pirlo's beard was clearly a transcendent moment.