ST. PETERSBURG, June 9. /TASS/. Achilles, a white-furred Hermitage male cat, will predict the outcome of the FIFA World Cup opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14, the St. Petersburg tourism committee said on its website.
"The prediction will take place a day before the teams of the host and the guests from Saudi Arabia will meet in Moscow’s Luzhniki," the committee said in a statement.
"On June 13 at 2 p.m. at a press conference devoted to the opening of the city press center in St. Petersburg, which will take place in the House of Journalists, the Hermitage cat Achilles will choose the winner team at the first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup," it said.
Achilles will also predict the outcomes of football matches due to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city that will host seven games. On June 15, Morocco’s team will take on Iran, on June 19 a match will take place between Russia and Egypt, on June 22 - between Brazil and Costa Rica, and on June 26 - between Argentina and Nigeria. St. Petersburg will also host two playoff games and a match for the third place.
The Hermitage’s veterinarian Anna Kondratyeva told TASS earlier the predictions would take place on the territory of the Hermitage Museum, one of the most popular tourist attractions of St. Petersburg.
Achilles will choose between two cat food bowls with the flags of the participating countries.
The Hermitage cat was right about the outcomes of three out of four 2017 Confederations Cup matches played in St. Petersburg, including the opening and final matches. His "performance" during the World Cup is a joint project on developing tourism of St. Petersburg and the Hermitage Museum.
Maria Khaltunen, a press secretary for Hermitage cats, said back in 2017 Achilles had been selected as the animal oracle as "he had displayed capabilities for choice, analysis and unusual behavior." Moreover, Achilles is deaf as many white cats are, yet this impairment does not sidetrack the feline and lets him better concentrate on his predictions.
The cats have been living in the Hermitage, originally a tsar’s palace, since the 18th century after Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, the founder of the city, issued an order to bring mice-catching cats from the city of Kazan, famous for its rat hunters at that time.
Now, from 50 to 70 rat-catching cats roam the Hermitage’s basement and they also appear on the neighboring embankment and square. Their population is regulated to avoid territorial disputes. In the recent years, the cats of the Hermitage have become a popular tourist brand in the city.
The city has even established a special holiday - Day of the Hermitage Cat. Apart from that, it offers a tourist trail, Cats of St. Petersburg. In 2015, the British press put the Hermitage Museum cats on the list of the world’s most unusual tourist attractions.