By Eric Kelsey
After weeks of following every tentacle twitch, Germans' shuddered on Tuesday morning when Paul, a psychic octopus at the Sea Life public aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen, tipped Spain to beat Germany in Wednesday's semifinal in Durban, South Africa.
At 10 minutes past 11 a.m., the octopus that has correctly predicted every Germany World Cup match so far, sat atop a clear plastic box marked with the Spanish flag and plucked the mussel from inside.
For Paul, it was just a simple reach with one of his eight arms, but he instantly turned his besotted German fans from believers into doubters.
It's not the first time that Paul, who was born in England two years ago, has gone against the Mannschaft. The octopus correctly predicted Serbia's 1-0 upset of Germany in the group phase of the tournament, a courageous choice considering that Germany hadn't lost a match in group play since 1986.
Paul's uncanny prognostications have turned the squishy cephalopod into an international star. German news broadcaster n-tv aired his selection live as "Breaking News"; the channel also reported that 20 camera teams from around the world trekked to the aquarium to cover his show. News stories about Paul's prediction instantly appeared on Spanish news websites.
From Talisman to Tako
Should Paul manage to run his record to 6-0, however, his personal success would mean heartbreak for his adopted homeland.
Once the two transparent boxes, each adorned with a national flag and a mussel inside, were lowered into the tank, Paul darted directly to the German side, perhaps swayed by their 4-0 drubbing of pre-tournament favorite Argentina.
Then Paul, reminded that Spain has the tournament's leading scorer in the clutch striker David Villa, stretched two tentacles towards the Spanish box and wavered between the two sides. He backed away, took a long look and floated upwards for a moment before descending on the German box.
The excitement was short lived for the Germans as Paul moved over to the Spanish box, lifted its lid, and ate the mussel.
"The mood (in the aquarium) after Paul's decision was a little disappointed," Sea Life spokeswoman Tanja Munzig told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Instead of cheers like before, there was silence."
More than Just Water Pressure
In making his choice, Paul seemed aware of the hopes riding on his mantle, seeming to sense that his prophecy would not be a popular one. It is a stress load that has some concerned. Over the weekend, Paul's publicity led the animal rights activists PETA to demand that Paul be freed from his tank in Oberhausen and released in a sea life preserve off the southern coast of France.
"It's a nice idea from PETA, but Paul is already too old to be set free in his natural habitat," Munzig said. Octopi typically live for only a few years.
Tuesday's nod to Spain led many to recall Paul's only blemish on his soothsaying record. In 2008, he wrongly predicted a Germany victory over Spain in the 2008 European Championship final. Last week, Paul tipped Germany over Argentina in a nail-biter, which was hardly the case.
Still, the Germans may be undone by another curse: On Tuesday, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that Mexican TV reporter and sometimes model Ines Sainz attended the team's press conference, a sign that has proven deadly to England, Brazil and Argentina's World Cup hopes.
with wire material
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