World Cup Final a Battle of Octopus vs. Parakeet

Octopus oracle Paul chooses a mussel from a glass tank marked with a Spanish flag and Mani, a 13-year-old parakeet, picks up a card with the flag of the Netherlands. AP Photo

The national teams of Spain and the Netherlands will meet in Johannesburg on Sunday to decide the winner of the 19th FIFA World Cup.

But tangled in the web of the football final is another colorful matchup: the battle of the psychic animals.

Germany's octopus oracle Paul is easily the world's most famous World Cup predictor. But a challenger has emerged. Singapore has in its corner Mani the parakeet.

The Octopus

Eyes around the world were on 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 wrong - have propelled him to international fame from obscurity a month ago 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 for the tournament. Millions watched as the world-famous octopus 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 match in Sunday's final.

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It was the first time he'd been tasked to pick a game in which Germany wasn't involved, as the Oberhausen Sea Life aquarium bowed to overwhelming demand to see who he would choose in the final.

Paul correctly predicted Germany's wins over Argentina, England, Australia and Ghana and the country's loss to Spain and Serbia.

He also predicted earlier on Friday that Germany will win over Uruguay in Saturday's match for third and fourth place.

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. "We're so proud of him."

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 international stardom.

Speain's defeat of Germany in the semifinals as predicted by Paul prompted many Germans to wonder about how he would taste grilled for dinner. 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 German football fans who sent in recipe suggestions for the 2 1/2 year-old floppy mollusk, 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," Porwoll said. He added, however, that the number of love declarations the aquarium is receiving from Paul's fans far outweighed the hate mail.

"We've been getting tons of requests from around the globe about Paul's visionary capabilities," said Porwoll. "People want to ask Paul about their marriage prospects, the gender of their future baby or the outcome of upcoming elections."

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 for his post-World Cup life, he said.

Paul has 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."

He added that "we did try and hire Paul the Octopus but we understand he is Goldman's bound," referring to the bank Goldman Sachs.

The Parakeet

A crowd of soccer fans leans forward as Mani, Singapore's World Cup-forecasting parakeet, creeps out of his small wooden cage and chooses between two white cards - one hiding the flag of the Netherlands, the other Spain.

If the bird's many new believers are right, Holland will win its first World Cup championship Sunday. Mani grabbed a card in his beak Friday and flipped it over to reveal the Dutch flag.

The 13-year-old parakeet has become a local celebrity after its owner, M. Muniyappan, claimed Mani accurately forecast the World Cup's four quarterfinal games and Spain's semifinal victory over Germany.

"He's a special bird," Muniyappan said.

Muniyappan, an 80-year-old fortuneteller, said Mani has helped him predict the future for five years at a table in front of a restaurant in the Little India neighborhood, but this year's World Cup is the first time the parakeet has attempted to forecast the outcome of sports competitions.

"People usually want help picking the lottery numbers, or when to get married," said Muniyappan, who was born in India and moved to Singapore in 1953. "Then gamblers started asking about the World Cup."

Muniyappan said about 30 people a day now pay for his psychic powers, up from about 10 a day before Mani shot to fame.

Singapore's ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian populations, especially the older generations, often seek out fortunetellers for advice about health or their children's marriage and job prospects.

For 10 Singapore dollars ($7), Muniyappan and Mani can see into your future. Ali, 31, said he was having financial problems and wanted to know when his luck would improve. After burning incense under pictures of Hindu gods, Muniyappan said Ali's fortunes would turn in 14 days.

"I've come to him before to know when my luck will change," Ali said. "I believe in him and the bird."

Not all onlookers were happy with Mani's World Cup finals' pick.

"I'm disappointed because I want Spain to win," Jimmy Wong, a 20-year-old student. "Now I'm not sure which team to bet on."

All this soothsaying means the World Cup match will be bigger than simply Spain vs. the Netherlands. There'll be a little bit of a Germany-Singapore rivalry thrown in for good measure, and the whole affair perfectly sets up an aquatic-aerial, mollusk-avian, Paul-Mani showdown for Sunday.

Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this story.
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