Many a soccer fan would say that the beauty of the game lies in its unpredictability. Upsets, surprising wins, and jaw-dropping losses are the game's bread and butter -- and a source of billions for the bookkeeping industry. In Britain alone, bookies estimate the World Cup playing out in Brazil will generate more than a billion pounds. So how to decide where to put your money?
During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, many relied on a certain cephalopod mollusk to make the decision for them, holding their breath as the world's most famous octopus -- Paul -- used his tentacles to choose the winning team, represented by one of two boxes filled with food. The animal "oracle" predicted the winners of eight matches, including the champions. During the 2008 European Championships, Paul correctly picked four of six winners. So many people relied on Paul that the Kazakhstan Association of Bookmakers complained that Paul's prescience cut their profits in half. A Russian bookkeeping company offered $130,000 for the animal. Tragically, Paul died in 2010 of natural causes.
But fear not, soccer gamblers. Paul has a slew of potential replacements.
This year, a veritable zoo of animal oracles can help you choose where to put your money; 2014 is the year animal prediction really jumped the shark. There are so many prophetic animals -- including a kangaroo nicknamed Predictaroo, a piranha named Pele, and a team of baby pandas -- that we decided to form FC Oracle, a team of animals with predictive skills from all around the world. They will be playing in the dynamic and aggressive formation of 4-3-3, championed by Portugal, Greece, and the Spanish soccer giants FC Barcelona.
Here's the roster:
Goalkeeper: The obvious choice for FC Oracle's goalie is Germany's Nellie the Elephant.
Filling in most of the net, Nellie's statuesque frame will make it difficult for the opponents to score. Like many a goalie, Nellie is one of the most experienced players on the team, with two championships under her belt -- the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. And the girl can kick! Nellie predicts game-winners by kicking a ball into a net.
Defense: The team has a strong set of defenders, diverse in species, including mammals, fish, and reptiles. We have Big Head, a 25-year-old Brazilian turtle, skilled in defensive headers. This center-back makes his predictions by eating fish hung from different flags. So far, he has a good track record: He correctly picked Brazil to win the opening match against Croatia.
Helping out Big Head in the center is the "Amazon toothsayer," or Pele the Piranha, named after Brazilian football legend Pele. The fish is British tabloid The Sun's animal oracle, skilled in the art of fouling; discreet, yet deadly.
At right-back is a fierce lady -- the Swiss guinea pig Madam Shiva. She plays a conservative game and will only be predicting matches in which her native side is playing. Shiva is up to a good start as well, picking Switzerland over Ecuador in their opener Sunday. On the left, an entire team of baby pandas, perhaps slightly inexperienced, but making up for it in adorableness and in number. The "crack team of baby pandas" is, unsurprisingly, predicting World Cup results in China.
Midfield: The center of the formation is where the brunt of the action happens. You need players who are fit and fast. Here, we have a star trio comprising Shaheen the Camel, Flopsy the Kangaroo, and Alistair the Donkey (optional sub: his donkey friend Derek, partner in prophecy). Shaheen comes to us from Dubai, where he picks the winners by nodding (no, really). Flopsy is Australia's "Predictaroo" and tweets via her eponymous handle. And there's Alistair the Donkey, a Brit who may not be as fast but will definitely trot out an entire game without a single pant.
Forwards: Here come the big guns. The right-forward position is occupied by Roo, a British bulldog, whose name and appearance are reminiscent of famous British forward Wayne Rooney. Roo is a shameless marketing ploy of "Pets at Home," a pet product company whose performance on the market has recently slumped (much like the player). The left wing occupied by none other than a pair of Brazilian Macaws, Sarge and Oscar.
And finally, the striker. Expert at diving, equipped with a strong pair of flipper-like feet, charismatic and British -- meet the Birmingham Gentoo penguin.
ROLAND WEIHRAUCH/AFP/Getty Images; HOLGER HOLLEMANN/AFP/Getty Images; BBC Video Screenshot