Pope Francis’ favorite team is on the verge of winning its first major international title. Argentine club San Lorenzo will host Paraguayan rival Nacional on Wednesday in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final at the El Nuevo Gasometro Stadium. The teams drew 1-1 last week in the first leg in Paraguay.
A home victory will secure the most important trophy in San Lorenzo’s 106-year history. Both sides have yet to win the Latin American club competition Wednesday’s hosts made headlines around the world after Pope Francis acknowledged that he is 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 follows 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 league champions. Meanwhile, their Paraguayan opponents are not nearly as popular as country rivals Olimpia and Cerro Porteno. The 110-year-old team is in the final for the first time.
San Lorenzo has one of the biggest fan bases in Argentina. Club officials had to anticipate the sales of tickets for Wednesday’s decisive match after several thousand fans started lining up days before the ticket centers were scheduled to open. The team’s only international titles so far are 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 will not be allowed to play on Wednesday after transferring to MLS team Montreal Impact.
Nacional, which scored late in the first leg to avoid a defeat in front of its home crowd, will be without defender Ramon Coronel because of an injury, but midfielder Marcos Riveros will 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.”