Animal prognosticators have become a traditional feature of World Cup tournaments, with Achilles following on the heels of Paul the ‘psychic octopus,’ who achieved fame during the tournament in 2010 in South Africa when he successfully predicted all eight results of his native Germany’s national team.
Like Paul, who died, much mourned, in 2014, Achilles signals his predictions by choosing between two pots of food marked with a country’s flag. Achilles’ oracular credentials rest on his strong performance during the Confederation’s Cup that Russia held last summer as a World Cup trial-run, in which he reportedly correctly predicted three out of four games, including the final.
At a televised event in St. Petersburg today, Achilles was again presented with two food dishes, choosing the home team after some hesitation. After making his selection, Achilles was dressed in the Russian national squad’s uniform.
The Hermitage’s veterinarian Anna Kondratyeva said she was sure Achilles made the right call, the Associated Press reported. He “loves his motherland” and couldn't vote otherwise, she said.
Achilles’ hesitation in picking Russia was understandable — the country goes into the tournament as the lowest-ranking team, at 70, below their opponents Saudi Arabia. The national team has become the butt of despairing jokes among Russians, having failed to win any of its last seven games and only managing a signal shot on target in its last two.
Achilles’ position as official soothsayer has challengers. Spartak the Lemur at Yekaterinburg zoo today picked Saudi Arabia in a separate ceremony, involving bananas. A zoo handler accused Spartak of not being a patriot, the local newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.