THE one thing that really gets me about Paul the psychic octopus – apart from the fact that he’s a psychic octopus, and called Paul – is that his method for predicting the outcome of Germany’s matches appears to make no allowances for draws.
That’s fine in the knockout stages, with their extra-time and their penalty shoot-outs. But Germany could easily have drawn one of their group games – and yet Paul got all of those correct too. (Yes, yes, I realise it’s pure luck. Even I’m not enough of a conspiracy theorist to suggest that there’s an octopus leading a match-fixing ring.)
In a World Cup that has been short on standout performances, Paul – who lives at the Aquarium Sea Life centre in the German town of Oberhausen – has been perhaps its star.
Before each of Germany’s six games in South Africa, his keeper Oliver Walenciak – or one of his staff – have placed two containers filled with mussels into Paul’s tank. One container has a German flag stuck to the front, the other has the flag of their opponents.
Whichever container Paul selects a mussel from first is taken to be his prediction. He has predicted all six of Germany’s games correctly, thus making him a more accurate forecaster than Mark Lawrenson. (In Lawro’s defence, he too went for a Spain win in Durban tonight.)
Paul has predicted the results of 11 Germany games at major international tournaments, having started this forecast lark during Euro 2008. He has managed to get 10 right. The only one he got wrong was the final in Vienna two years ago, when he tipped Germany to beat Spain. Still, it’s not a bad record.
Football fans do love their superstitions – which is all this is. (Countless other creatures have been used to predict the outcome of matches during this World Cup, including a female sloth bear, a monkey, a 19-year-old hippo and even Andy Townsend – and all have been wrong at some point.)
So it was quite amusing to read that some Argentina fans blamed Paul’s predicting powers for their country’s quarter-final exit. As a result, Paul received death threats from South America. Even allowing for the fact that an octopus has nine brains, and that the death threats were tongue-in-cheek, it still makes about as much sense as shouting at your computer when it crashes.
One Argentinian newspaper even suggested cooking Paul and eating him, leading the Daily Telegraph to come up with the inspired headline: Psychic octopus in hot water.
While the cephalopod plumped for Spain because the mussel in the acrylic box with their flag on the front looked tastier, most human predictions were made on the basis that Germany were missing the suspended Thomas Muller’s influence in midfield. It amounted to the same thing.
Spain had the better of the first half, without creating that much – although Carles Puyol should have scored from Andres Iniesta’s cross, which he headed over.
They spent the first 25 minutes of the second half banging a series of crosses, shots and headers into an area around two feet wide of Manuel Neuer’s left-hand post. It got to a point where I found myself checking there wasn’t a photographer behind the goal wearing a target. (There wasn’t.)
For all Spain’s pretty passing (and they do pass the ball around well), their winning goal was just about as basic as they come, and it was made in Barcelona. Xavi corner, Puyol header, bang.
Pedro made a complete mess of a late chance to make sure the octopus was right, failing to shoot or pass to the unmarked Fernando Torres after wriggling clear, and losing the ball.
But it was Spain’s destiny to reach their first World Cup final. I wonder if the octopus will bother with the third-place play-off…