Tentacled tipsters and prophetic pachyderm predict Women’s World Cup

During last year's Football World Cup in South Africa, Paul the Octopus shot to fame for his accurate match predictions. But a new batch of animal oracles are tipping the women's competition starting in Germany on Sunday.

Tentacled tipsters and prophetic pachyderm predict Women's World Cup
Photo: DPA

The tentacled tipster Paula was put through her paces on Friday in Konstanz in southern Germany, but made the shock prediction that Canada would win Sunday’s opening match against the hosts in Berlin.

The octopus, whose gender is actually unknown, had to choose between two compartments in a plastic box in its tank, one with a Germany flag and one with a Canada one, with each containing a tasty morsel.

Click here for a gallery of some World Cup-loving animals

The prediction is a bold one as Germany, whose women are hoping to win their third consecutive World Cup, have never lost any of their previous nine matches to Canada.

Paula, however, is only one of eight salty soothsayers housed at eight different Sea Life centres in Germany competing to become the official successor to British-born Paul, who lived in an aquarium in Oberhausen.

All eight will be asked to predict the outcome of all Germany’s matches in the women’s competition which runs from June 26 until July 17.

While Paula and an octoped colleague in Munich both backed Canada on Friday, the fishy forecasters in Berlin, Königswinter and Oberhausen plumped for Germany, making the combined predictions 3-2 in the hosts’ favour.

But the method of enticing the underwater oracles to predict the winner proved to be far from fool-proof – three octopuses in other locations in Germany snubbed the treats on offer and ignored both boxes.

This was determined by aquarium officials to mean that they expect a draw.

Meanwhile one-year-old African elephant Nelly got in on the forecasting act at the Serengeti Park in Hodenhagen, near Hannover, by predicting a win for Germany after opting to kick a ball into the Canada net when given a choice.

But it is all a far cry so far from last summer’s performances by Paul – who has become something of an icon here – after he kept a clean sheet in the men’s competition in South Africa.

He correctly foretold the outcome of all Germany’s games, even a defeat to Serbia in the group stage and to Spain in the semi-finals, as well as Spain’s eventual victory in the final.

In the process he cost bookmakers a fortune and won worldwide fame, with rolling news channels in Germany carrying live coverage when he was asked to choose – as they did with Paula on Friday.

Paul died aged nearly three in October, sparking hundreds of messages of condolence from his fan club on social networking website Facebook, whose ranks have more than tripled since his death to more than 200,000.


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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.