Road to Euro 2012 Glory Runs Through a Polish Zoo

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CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Citta, a 33-year-old female elephant reacts after she chose a melon above a sign indicating a win for the Poland football team at Krakow zoo on June 6, 2012 at the zoo in the southern Polish city of Krakow.

He’s one of international soccer’s biggest names, a veritable legend of the game who can claim company with the likes of Puskas, Di Stefano and Garrincha. He is gone now, dying in his sleep, peacefully we are told, at the tender age of three. But he is assured a place in the halls of soccer eternity. Paul the Octopus, or simply Paul to soccer aficionados, catapulted to global fame during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when he correctly predicted all of Germany’s results, in addition to picking the victor of the final showdown between Spain and the Netherlands.

Paul’s every forecast quickly became a media spectacle during the summer of 2010. Before each game, two boxes were lowered into his tank at Germany’s Oberhausen Sea Life Center, each containing a mussel and a flag of one of the opposing teams. Amidst a flurry of flashbulbs, the eight-armed oracle would swim to one box, pry open the lid and reach for his lunch. Paul’s choice of box, with the national team’s flag, was deemed a prophesy of the winner, and his knack for choosing the correct snack made him a media starlet — German outlets eventually covered his later predictions live on television. Fans grew so fixated with Paul’s predictions that the mollusk even received death threats from German fans after correctly predicting two German defeats during the tournament. And legend holds that former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero allegedly asked for Paul to be protected by bodyguards.

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Not to be outdone, the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, has chosen it’s official oracle. Following in Paul’s footsteps is a tall order, no doubt, but one that has fallen nonetheless on Citta, a 33-year-old elephant at the Krakow Zoo. Citta’s handlers assure fans that she has great intuition, a quality that distinguished her from the ferret named Fred and Funtik, a pig. (No, I’m not making all this up.) Citta is already under pressure, having picked Poland to outduel Greece is Friday’s inaugural game when she ate a melon draped with Poland’s flag instead two other melons, one marked with an X (representing a tie) and one with Greece’s flag. (The match, in fact, ended 1-1.)

Still, she had established her credentials before the tournament. “She correctly predicted the result of the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich,” said Teresa Grega, assistant director of the Cracow Zoo.

But, let’s face it, she has big shoes to fill. The road to diviner glory is pressure-filled and perilous, as Paul’s death threats remind us. For one thing, Citta may want to keep an eye out for King Juan Carlos of Spain in case she predicts an unfavorable result for the Spanish side. Even if she fails to live up to Paul’s flawless record, at least Citta has proved to be a true fan of the game. Immediately after being presented to local press a few weeks back, she promptly ate a soccer ball.

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