World Cup: Paul wraps his tentacles around Spain
Eyes around the world were focused on Germany's octopus oracle Paul on Friday as he made his biggest prediction yet in the World Cup: Spain will beat the Netherlands in the final.
Paul's prescient picks in the World Cup — he has yet to predict a match wrongly — have propelled him to international fame from obscurity in an aquarium in the western city of Oberhausen.
TV stations in Germany, Great Britain, Taiwan and elsewhere broadcast live pictures, complete with breathless commentary, of his final decision.
Millions watched as the eight-legged oracle descended upon on a tank marked with a Spanish flag, sitting for only a few minutes before grabbing a mussel and devouring it, while completely ignoring the Dutch tank — indicating a Spanish victory in Sunday's final.
It was the first time the octopus had been tasked to pick a game in which Germany wasn't involved, as the Oberhausen Sea Life aquarium bowed to demand. He correctly called Germany's wins over Argentina, England, Australia and Ghana and the country's loss to Spain and Serbia.
He also predicted Friday that Germany will win over Uruguay in Saturday's match for third and fourth place.
Paul first developed his abilities during the 2008 European Championship in which he predicted five out of six games involving Germany correctly. But while he had only a community of local fans two years ago, his World Cup prognostications have brought him something like stardom. He has his own Facebook fan pages and a list of admirers that includes the Spanish leader.
His handlers say he is coping with fame well.
"Paul is such a professional oracle — he doesn't even care that hundreds of journalists are watching and commenting on every move he makes," said Stefan Porwoll, the Sea Life aquarium manager.
Spain's defeat of Germany in the semifinals prompted some Germans to wonder about how he would taste grilled. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero fretted about the safety of "El Pulpo Paul," as he's known in Spain, and offered Paul protection.
"I am concerned about the octopus," Zapatero said. "I'm thinking about sending in a team to protect the octopus because obviously it was very spectacular that he should get Spain's victory right from there."
In response to hundreds of angry e-mails from disappointed Germans, the aquarium actually did take extra precautions, Porwoll said.
"I even told our guards and people at the entrance to keep a close look at possible for football fans coming after Paul for revenge," he said. He added, however, that the number of love declarations and requests for predictions outweighed the hate mail.
One reporter from Greece asked if Paul could predict the end of the financial crisis and German TV stations have offered the eight-legged psychic lucrative contracts, he said.
In the Middle East, Arabic news sites offered detailed information about Paul's picks — drawing one suggestion that Paul be sent to Iraq to choose between bitter rivals, the current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his main challenger Ayad Allawi.
Paul even made waves in the business world. Gary Jenkins, an economist with London's Evolution Securities, hedged his market analysis note on Friday, conceding "unless Paul says differently."
While Paul is no doubt the world's most famous animal oracle these days, he is facing competition. In Singapore, Mani, a World Cup-forecasting parakeet, predicted a different outcome of Sunday's final match.
Creeping out of his small wooden cage and choosing between two white cards — one hiding a Dutch flag, the other Spanish — the bird predicted the Netherlands will win its first World Cup championship, setting up a Mani-Paul showdown for Sunday.
In South Africa, Spanish defender Carlos Marchena said he wasn't putting too much stock in Paul.
"It's only an octopus," he said.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Octopus Paul, soccer oracle of the German aquarium Sea Life, predicts a victory for Spain in the World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain.
Credit: EPA / Roland Weihrauch