Dubai: Ever since Paul the Octopus displayed his clairvoyance skills at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, there has been a place in the hearts of football fans for fixture-predicting animals at the biggest sporting occasion in the world.
Gulf News’ very own Shaheen the camel took his bow four years ago for the Brazil finals and rapidly built up a loyal following, with fans waiting to see which team he would pick as the winners from matches throughout the event.
Now, he is back and predicting more games this time around — but putting together the videos you see each day takes a lot more than picking up a camcorder and shouting "action!".
Earlier this month, Gulf News videographer Sonia Shah and I set out into the desert to meet up with Shaheen at a camel breeding centre in Dubai, not quite knowing what to expect.
We were out on location to shoot the first batch of predictions for the World Cup group stages.
After a few wrong turns and a foray across the sand, we made it to the centre to meet the star of the show, Shaheen.
Had the fame gone to Shaheen’s head?
Would he want nothing to do with us? Would he bite off my fingers?
We shouldn’t have worried, this guy is a natural.
The real difficulties lay with the breeze playing havoc with our props and the microphones — oh, and the biggest ants I have ever seen (about the size of a small dog, honest).
For each match, we set up a stand with the flag representing the competing nations.
First up, Russia v Saudi Arabia.
Shaheen strolled out of his grounds — with a companion in tow for company — to perform his magic under the shade of a nearby tree, picking up from four years ago with a confident nudge of a Russia flag.
Boom, one down.
Now, this will be easy, we thought.
The thing is, camels — especially celebrity ones — like to move around quite a bit, and Shaheen’s English is a little rusty.
“This may take some time,” I thought as the clock ticked towards noon and the temperature rose.
My initial fears about bites and kicks were quelled by Shaheen’s handlers and he turned out to be more interested in sniffing the smells of my cat and getting rubs behind the ears than getting on with the predictions.
What a diva!
Thankfully, he soon got into the mood after a bite to eat and we were checking of matches with regularity in the increasingly toasty compound, in-between friendly rubs of the chin and neck (Shaheen, not me).
As for the predictions, I raised an eyebrow when he opted for Russia over Saudi in the opening game, thinking the hosts were going to struggle.
One 5-0 victory to Russia later and Shaheen was proved right.
Goes to show what I know.
Shaheen's score so far
Ahead of Wednesday’s games, Shaheen was 5-4 in correct predictions.
Not bad considering three of his errors were upsets for Argentina, Brazil and Germany.
He is the talk of the town but this football selection star is still keeping his four feet on the ground.
Never work with children or animals, they say. I’d happily work with big Shaheen any day, and he eventually enjoyed working with this big child.
* Follow Shaheen’s daily predictions online at gulfnews.com/sport