FOUR years ago, a sotong (octopus) by the name of Paul became the world's most famous football oracle. The psychic octopus outshone his human counterparts, the TV pundits and sportswriters with his accuracy in forecasting the outcome of World Cup matches.
Living in a German aquarium, Paul correctly predicted eight straight World Cup matches by choosing between the flags on top of boxes with food, usually a mussel or oyster. He died of natural causes a few months after predicting Spain's victory over the Netherlands in the final.
This time, a super cute Chinese panda is set to become the star of the World Cup starting in Brazil tomorrow. According to media reports, the unnamed panda has accepted an invitation to predict World Cup matches. The animal will decide on which team will win by climbing a tree with that nation's flag attached.
On the field, not wanting to be outdone by anybody else or animals for that matter, is that super Homo sapiens, the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo. With a sleek muscled 1.85m physique that gives him speed and power, he is a shark that terrorises defences.
Off the field, the Malaysian loan sharks will watch with great interest on a tournament happening oceans away in the Western Hemisphere. They smell blood. People will bet on football and many will lose. Those, drowning in debts, will need to borrow money.
Welcome to the greatest show on earth, or perhaps more fittingly, the greatest circus on earth. For a month, earthlings turn into football fan-atic as their everyday life takes a backseat.
Fifa, the world governing body for football, said that the 2010 World Cup final was seen by at least 1 billion people. The 64 matches, played by 32 countries, were broadcast to every territory in the world. More than 3.2 billion people, or 46.4 per cent of the planet's population, watched live TV coverage for a minimum of one minute.
Productivity from the workplace to the bedroom is expected to be affected. So seductive is the World Cup that it keeps excited men glued to the TV set than to their wives. Reports say that fewer babies were conceived on the planet during previous World Cups.
The Malaysian Employers Federation fears that employees won't be fit enough for work due to lack of sleep from watching the month-long World Cup tournament, which is played 11 hours behind Malaysia.
Absenteeism or coming late to work becomes part of the game by workers during the World Cup. If you fall sick during this period, and ask for an MC, expect the doctor to give you an "I know you watched football" frown.
Betting syndicates thrive simply because they have "customers". And Malaysian syndicates are world infamous. Last Sunday, Simon Brodkin, a BBC comedian, dressed himself in a smart suit and tie similar to those of the England World Cup team, and joined them on the way to the airport. The imposter was eventually taken away by security personnel.
Brodkin later tweeted: "Gutted Roy (Hodgson, the England manager) wouldn't let me on the plane to Brazil. I don't know what to tell the Malaysian betting syndicate now..."
Over the years, we often heard about Malaysian police busting gambling syndicates during World Cup tournaments. Evidently, our cops are always on the ball, and hopefully, they will be more than a match for the bookies this time.
During the World Cup, Malaysians, just like others in other parts of the world, become football pundits. You put in your two cents, never mind that you are an armchair critic who can't touch your toes and haven't kicked a ball in your life.
But I try not to be too smart or pretend to be an authority on the sport. Some people assume that I can make them rich through betting and they think it is my business to know who should win. Oh, how wrong they are. Often in the World Cup, even the legends, the sages, the pundits and other experts got it all wrong. Well, unless you are Paul...
And I wouldn't want to spoil the good reputation of the NST sport section, which is always spot on with the news, with my predictions.
My advice to you is be a neutral. Don't take bets, don't take sides. Let our joy flow with the poetry in motion of the great teams on the field, and let's savour the skills and magical moments. Soak up the emotions and get heady. This way, you get to really enjoy the game.
But we can only watch in awe as Japan and South Korea appear yet again in the World Cup Finals. We may even feel nostalgic or we may feel "left behind" by them. Forty years ago, Malaysia was more than the equal of these two countries.
With no Malaysia team to cheer for in the World Cup, Malaysians have got used to "adopting" other countries as their teams, and to support and scream for, and wear their jerseys.
England is the sentimental favourite for many of the Anglophiles in Malaysia. For the fans of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, the England team is part of the extended EPL family. They chose not to be independent of our former colonial master when it comes to football.
In tune with J. Lo and Pitbull's We Are One (Ole Ola), the 2014 World Cup song, Malaysian and English fans "are one" in their support of the England team for the World Cup.
Of course, there will be other Malaysians who support Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, while the romantics go for the underdogs.
But the bettors have no loyalty as their interest goes where their money is. Often, they lose sleep over losing matches. It's better to be a neutral to enjoy the greatest show on earth.