(see related) Rome, August 13 - Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi gave the pope a bit of encouragement that was not game-related when the pair met on Tuesday. "I dare to hope that Christ illuminates your path for children, the most vulnerable and those who suffer," Messi said in a message delivered to Pope Francis during an audience at the Vatican. Francis, an ardent soccer fan, met with players from both his homeland of Argentina and Italian players who will meet Wednesday evening in a friendly match. Messi, who plays for Barcelona, said he wanted to bring a personal greeting, on behalf of his friends and family, to the pope, to "encourage his work in wisdom, humility and sacrifice". Earlier, Francis confessed that he felt torn as to whom to root for in Wednesday's match. "It will be a bit difficult for me when it comes to cheering, but fortunately this is a friendly - and I strongly advise that it truly remains as such," said Francis. The two teams will be playing in the pope's honor at Rome's Stadio Olimpico in a match that the Vatican says will help launch an international schools network based on the pope's work as an archbishop in Buenos Aires. "Before you are champions, your are men first of all, human beings, with your gifts and flaws, with your hearts and ideas, aspirations and problems," the pope told the players. "So even if you're famous figures, always be men, in sport and in life. Men who display humanity. "Please, I ask that you pray for me, so that even I, on the field where God has placed me, can play the honest and courageous match for the good of all of us".