SAO PAULO (AP) - 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. 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 clubs 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.
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.
Francis follows soccer 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, promising he wouldn’t pray for any team. Germany 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 champion.
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 at El Nuevo Gasometro Stadium after several thousand fans started lining up days before ticket centers were 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 Wednesday after transferring to Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact.
Nacional, which scored late in the first leg to avoid a home defeat, 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.”
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