SINGAPORE – SINGAPORE (AP) — A crowd of soccer fans leans forward as Mani, Singapore's World Cup-forecasting parakeet, creeps out of his small wooden cage and chooses between two white cards — one hiding the flag of the Netherlands, the other Spain.
If the bird's many new believers are right, Holland will win its first World Cup championship Sunday. Mani grabbed a card in his beak Friday and flipped it over to reveal the Dutch flag.
The 13-year-old parakeet has become a local celebrity after its owner, M. Muniyappan, claimed Mani accurately forecast the World Cup's four quarterfinal games and Spain's semifinal victory over Germany.
"He's a special bird," Muniyappan said.
Mani joins Paul the octopus, who has correctly predicted the winner of every World Cup match played by Germany, as overnight stars as interest in soccer's biggest tournament peaks and gamblers look for any edge to pick winners.
Muniyappan, an 80-year-old fortuneteller, said Mani has helped him predict the future for five years at a table in front of a restaurant in the Little India neighborhood, but this year's World Cup is the first time the parakeet has attempted to forecast the outcome of sports competitions.
"People usually want help picking the lottery numbers, or when to get married," said Muniyappan, who was born in India and moved to Singapore in 1953. "Then gamblers started asking about the World Cup."
Muniyappan said about 30 people a day now pay for his psychic powers, up from about 10 a day before Mani shot to fame.
Singapore's ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian populations, especially the older generations, often seek out fortunetellers for advice about health or their children's marriage and job prospects.
For 10 Singapore dollars ($7), Muniyappan and Mani can see into your future. Ali, 31, said he was having financial problems and wanted to know when his luck would improve. After burning incense under pictures of Hindu gods, Muniyappan said Ali's fortunes would turn in 14 days.
"I've come to him before to know when my luck will change," Ali said. "I believe in him and the bird."
Not all onlookers were happy with Mani's World Cup finals' pick.
"I'm disappointed because I want Spain to win," Jimmy Wong, a 20-year-old student. "Now I'm not sure which team to bet on."