Bright future predicted for pundit Paul, the octopus oracle, after final picks

Paul-mania shows no signs of abating as one Greek reporter asks if he could foresee the end of the financial crisis, while German TV stations have offered lucrative contracts.

There's been plenty of ink for Paul the Octopus lately, and why not? The octopus, also known as the "Oracle of Oberhausen," has successfully predicted the winner of six World Cup matches so far. Now, Paul has forecast the winner of Sunday's final match. And rather than go out on a limb - or maybe eight of them - Paul is sticking with the favourite, picking Spain over Holland. Handlers of the two-and-a-half-year-old floppy octopus - a resident of the Oberhausen Sea Life aquarium - usually have him make predictions only for games in which Germany plays. But because of Paul's recent worldwide fame and demand for his pick for the final, they made an exception.

Here's how the seer sucker makes his prognostications: officials put a mussel inside each of two clear plastic boxes bearing the national flags of the teams in his tank. Paul then makes his choice by opening the lid with his tentacles and devouring one of the treats. Millions across Europe, in Taiwan and elsewhere watched a live TV broadcast yesterday of his choice of Spain, complete with breathless commentary. He also predicted Germany over Uruguay in Saturday's third-place game.

Paul has received business proposals, has thousands of Facebook fans and even has the attention of world leaders. Animal rights group Peta wants him freed. Many Germans - upset that he correctly picked Spain over Germany in Wednesday's semi-final - want him fried. "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."

After his prediction of his home country's loss came true, German TV showed footage of a grilled octopus. That prompted the Spanish prime inister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to fret about the safety of "El Pulpo Paul," as he's known in Spain. "I am concerned about the octopus," Mr 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 Germans, the aquarium actually took extra precautions, Mr Porwoll said. "I even told our guards and people at the entrance to keep a close look at possible football fans coming after Paul for revenge," he said, adding that the hate mail was outweighed by declarations of love and requests for predictions. Peta says Paul's tank is too small. But Mr Porwoll said the creature was born in captivity and has never had to deal with any natural enemies, so dumping Paul into the Atlantic would likely mean death. He could live up to four years in captivity, he added.

In the meantime, he might have a future beyond World Cup. A reporter from Greece asked if the mollusc medium could foresee the end of the financial crisis, and German TV stations have offered lucrative contracts, Mr Porwoll said. After Arab news sites reported Paul's picks, it was suggested he be sent to Iraq to choose between two bitter rivals - the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, and his main challenger, Ayad Allawi - vying to head the new government.

Gary Jenkins, an economist with London's Evolution Securities, hedged his market analysis note yesterday with the phrase, "unless Paul says differently." Paul is not without competition. There's also Mani, a parakeet in Singapore, who predicted the Dutch would win tomorrow by creeping out of his wooden cage and choosing between two cards that bore the two nations' flags. In South Africa, Spanish team defender Carlos Marchena isn't putting too much stock in Paul's pick.

"It's only an octopus," he said. * AP