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Pope Francis has said his Argentinian compatriot Lionel Messi is not "God" yet understands why people refer to him as if he is.

When presenter Jordi Evole suggested he did believe Messi was God, Pope Francis replied with a chuckle: "I don't".

Asked about the subject on Spanish television channel La Sexta, Pope Francis said: "In theory, it is sacrilege".

"Adoring is only for God, they are expressions people use. Do you believe you can?" he said in an interview with Salvados.

Messi and his global team-mates also sent a signed shirt to Pope Francis on the back of their display at the 2014 World Cup which saw them finish as runners-up to Germany. I think people say "he is God" just as they say "I adore you".

"[Saying] "He's a god with the ball on the pitch" is a popular way to express yourself he's great to watch - but he's not God".

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Pope Francis is known to be a football fan, and he is also a club member of Buenos Aires side San Lorenzo.

Messi's second-half brace gave Barcelona a 2-0 victory over city rivals Espanyol on Saturday.

TUKO.co.ke had earlier reported that Lionel Messi keeps showing why he is regarded as the greatest of all time byscoring his 40th goal of the season in all competition. At age 31, Messi is arguably better than he's ever been, taking control of Barca's attack in every phase of play in addition to his usual goalscoring numbers.

Espanyol captain Victor Sanchez committed the foul on Messi that prompted the set-piece and then, in an apparent attempt to outwit the Argentina global, retreated to his goal line and inadvertently directed the ball past goalkeeper Diego Lopez.