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The Holy Father's love of football - and replica shirts - and classic Cote d'Ivoire feature in the latest in our series chronicling the extraordinary power of belief

Pope swaps shirts for divine blessings

Pope Francis may only have been in the job less than a year, but he’s already built up an impressive collection of replica shirts. Italian clubs have been paying regular visits to the Vatican for a blessing from the pontiff, whose love of football (the Argentine is famously a San Lorenzo fan) is on a par with former goalie Pope John Paul II, rumoured to have been a Fulham supporter. Earlier this year, on the eve of an Italy-Argentina friendly held in his honour in Rome, His Holiness called for the game in general to retain its sense of “beauty, generosity and camaraderie”.

Cote d'Ivoire escape jumbo juju

Desperate for his team to win the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations, the sports minister for the Cote d'Ivoire decided to hire a group of witch doctors from a suburb of capital city Abidjan. The Elephants duly ran out winners, defeating fellow west Africans Ghana in the final. There was a problem, though. The witch doctors claimed they were never paid for their services and threatened to place a curse on the side. Desperate to avoid potential jinx, the new sports minister, who paid homage to “the power of the wise men of the village”, settled the debt 10 years later, offering the miffed mystics $2,000 and a bottle of liquor in October 2002.

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