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Why predicting the winner of the World Cup is so difficult

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IF ONLY Paul were still alive. Though he had never watched a game of football, learnt how to use a spreadsheet or issued a press release about his state-of-the-art machine-learning-based forecasts, he was globally renowned for his preternatural ability to predict results at major international tournaments. Throughout the European Championship of 2008 and the World Cup of 2010 he was wrong on only two occasions. That Paul had only ever issued 14 predictions before his untimely death in October 2010 did not detract from his legendary status. Nor did the fact that he had tipped his native Germany 11 times. For Paul was an oracular octopus, who could prophesy the footballing future by choosing between two flag-bearing boxes containing oysters.

Paul’s secret methodology went with him to his watery grave. Attempts from zoos around the world to produce an equally gifted seer have proved futile. Eight years on, football fans could be forgiven for missing the authoritative decrees from his aquarium in Oberhausen. Ahead of this summer’s World Cup they…Continue reading

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