Lionel Messi, Argentina
The greatest player of his generation is a committed Catholic. He has met Pope Francis and in 2016 the Holy Father said that his compatriot (Messi, not Maradona) was the greatest footballer of all time. In Russia, the hopes of Argentina rest yet again on Messi’s shoulders. The nation only scraped through qualifying, so winning the World Cup seems unlikely even with the little maestro leading them. If Argentina do lift the cup, Messi has reportedly said he will go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of San Nicolás, in San Nicolás de los Arroyos in Buenos Aires province.
Andrés Iniesta, Spain
Perhaps Messi got the pilgrimage idea from another Catholic player, his former Barcelona teammate Andrés Iniesta. The legendary midfielder made his own promise to go on pilgrimage – in this case the Camino de Santiago – if Spain won the World Cup in 2010. And win they did, with Iniesta scoring the decisive goal in the final (it’s unclear whether he followed through on his pilgrimage promise, though).
Jakub Błaszczykowski, Poland
One of Poland’s star players experienced unspeakable trauma as a child, witnessing his father stab his mother to death. The devout Catholic has since spoken of how he believes his mother is looking after him from heaven. Błaszczykowski, who plays on the wing, reads the Bible every day and was an ambassador for World Youth Day in Kraków in 2016.
Javier Hernández, Mexico
There are certain to be displays of Evangelical Christianity during the tournament, mainly from South American players (look out for Brazil players sporting “I belong to Jesus” T-shirts). Watch out, also, for Mexico striker Javier Hernández’s own public display of faith: the Catholic player is regularly seen kneeling in prayer before the start of matches.
Antoine Griezmann, France
Griezmann, one of the leading lights of a strong French team, expresses his Catholic faith through his tattoos. On his right arm there is not only a portrait of Jesus above a Christ the Redeemer statue, but also a set of rosary beads. “I have them because in my family we are all very religious,” he has said. In his autobiography, Derrière le sourire [Behind the Smile], he says he has “bathed in religion since childhood […] I continue to light candles in churches.”
Raheem Sterling, England
The Manchester City attacker has been one of England’s most prominent players in the build-up to the tournament, thanks in no small part to the controversy stoked by his latest tattoo – of a machine gun. He said the image was in memory of his father, who was shot dead when Sterling was two years old. Sterling, a Christian who posts Bible verses and other messages affirming his faith on social media, will be hoping to put the fuss behind him and replicate his club form (he scored 18 goals in City’s latest Premier League-winning campaign) for his country in Russia.