A History of World Cup Prediction

Bloody Paul the Octopus.  Little did he know what he was starting.

Paul’s moment in the spotlight occurred during the World Cup 2010 in South Africa.  The little cephalopod from the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen was elevated from fish tank obscurity to the position of a global celebrity by his uncanny ability to predict the winners of World Cup matches.

Since then, Paul has spawned an entire industry in animal seers.

In 2010, Paul’s only serious competition was provided by Mani, a fortune-telling rose-ringed parakeet from Singapore.  By Russia 2018, every Tom, Dick and Harry––or at least, Tiddles, Digby and Harley––are in on the act.

Perhaps most famous of the current crop of soothsayers is Achilles the Cat, resident of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and who selects teams by favouring one food bowl over another.  However, vying with Achilles for champion prognosticator are Nika, a polar bear at Moscow Zoo; Suri, a meerkat in Yekaterinburg; Harry, an otter from Sochi; and resident to Rostov, Alicia the racoon, not to mention two turtles, as yet unnamed.

And what do any of these creatures know about football?  Sweet Football Association.  Does that matter?  No, not really.

In actual fact, predictions surrounding the World Cup date back much earlier than Paul and 2010.  Prime Minister Harold Wilson predicted England’s victory on home soil in 1966 although, considering he was standing for re-election at the time, to have predicted anything else would have been a sure-fire way to lose votes.

Argentina’s 6-0 demolition of Peru in 1978, which allowed them to progress to the final after the second round of group matches, could have been predicted given a close analysis of both countries political regimes at the time.

Germany and Austria’s ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ match in 1982 could have been predicted in a time before FIFA changed the rules such that final group stage matches should be played simultaneously.

Even Diana Ross’s famous ‘miss’ at the Opening Ceremony in 1994 was an accurate predictor of a dull tournament to follow.

Excluding Nostradamus, one consistently reliable source for predicting the future is The Simpsons.  The Trump presidency, the Siegfried and Roy tiger mauling, and the doughnut-shaped universe being notable successes.  In the 1997 episode, ‘The Cartridge Family’, The Simpsons predicted a Portugal versus Mexico final, a possibility which has raised a flutter of social media speculation until, that is, Mexico’s 3-0 defeat to Sweden, a result which means that Portugal and Mexico can now only meet at the semi-final stage of the competition.

Investment bankers Goldman Sachs have predicted that the World Cup Final 2018 will be between England and Brazil, a possibility given the way that the draw has panned out after England’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belgium.  However, given Goldman Sachs’s inability to predict the 2007 subprime mortgage bubble bursting, I wouldn’t put too much store by any forecasts they make.

Russia 2018 has had its fair share of surprises.  Show me an animal that predicted that Germany would lose 2-0 to South Korea and finish bottom of their group; or that Senegal would beat Poland; or Croatia crush Argentina; or Morocco draw with Spain.

Show me a critter that guessed that John Stones would bag a brace against Panama; that Russia would even progress beyond the group stage; that football hooliganism wouldn’t be a hot topic of conversation; or that an England manager would display sufficient tactical acumen as to lose a match, such that England might be considered as serious contenders.

That is what has been so great about Russia 2018.

It is completely unpredictable.

© Donnie Blake


Donnie Blake prefers not to see too far into the future.

Check out a copy of Donnie’s novel Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle, the first book in the World Cup Detective series, at Amazon.

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