Emlyn Jacoby is preparing for his move to Davenport, Iowa, where he will work toward his master’s degree at St. Ambrose University. His younger brother, Spencer, and his friend Jarryd Phillips are in Quebec playing in a summer soccer league.
But the three University of Maine-Fort Kent soccer standouts will be glued to their television sets beginning Friday when the World Cup begins in their native South Africa.
All three are from Johannesburg and proud of the fact their country is the first African nation to host one of the world’s most prestigious events.
“It’s a massive deal for the country,” said Spencer Jacoby. “Being the first African country to host it, you can’t get much better than that.”
The Jacobys and Phillips returned to South Africa last Christmas and witnessed the dramatic overhaul prompted by the World Cup. It included the building of five new stadiums and the renovation of the five other established stadiums that will be used for World Cup games.
According to USA Today, the government spent $4.4 billion on upgrading transportation, improving security and building the stadiums, and cities and provinces spent another $1.2 billion.
The stadium construction has provided 130,000 jobs for a country with 27 percent unemployment.
“This will put our country on the map, for sure,” said Spencer. “We’ve hosted other big tournaments like the rugby World Cup. But nothing as big as the soccer World Cup.”
“It’s the best thing to ever happen to our country,” said Emlyn Jacoby. “I spoke to my mom [Alida] and she said there is an unbelievable buzz about it.”
“When we were back there, there were billboards pertaining to the World Cup everywhere. No matter where you went, you always saw something about it,” said Spencer Jacoby.
The Jacobys visited one of the new stadiums in Durban, and Emlyn said it was memorable. There was a cable car that ran above the stadium.
“It was immaculate. I’ve been to White Hart Lane [home of English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur] and this new stadium is 100 times better,” said Emlyn.
“And we went on the big arch over the stadium,” said Spencer. “To see the whole stadium [from that vantage point] left you speechless. It was massive.”
The weather should be cooperative, according to Emlyn.
“It’s the middle of winter over there. It’ll be in the mid-70s during the day and will be a bit nippy at night, in the low 50s. But it will be more humid on the coast.”
The Jacobys said the highway system has been significantly improved with the upgrading of the road surfaces and the addition of lanes.
“And they have some new trains,” said Spencer.
South Africa does have a high crime rate, including violent crime, but they said extra security will be on hand.
And they said like any major city anywhere, tourists and World Cup fans will have to avoid the danger areas in each city. USA Today said an estimated 375,000 fans will attend the World Cup.
“The locals are pretty friendly and they’ll tell them where not to go,” said Spencer, who expects soccer fans to have a “fantastic time” because of the diversity in South Africa.
“All the cities offer different atmospheres,” said Spencer.
Emlyn pointed out that several cities have casinos and a vibrant nightlife and South Africa also has “some of the best beaches in the world.”
He said Sun City has a popular casino complex.
Soccer is one of three major sports in South Africa along with rugby and cricket.
There are soccer academies where young players develop, but, according to Emlyn, there are no college soccer teams.
“Players have to decide after high school whether to play professional soccer or go to college,” said Emlyn Jacoby.
He said players in South Africa’s pro leagues don’t make a lot of money, so the best players head to other countries, like England, where they make a lot more.
While watching a game, whether live or on TV, fans will be blowing horns known as vuvuzelas.
“They’re annoying. But they’re fun,” chuckled Spencer.
The Jacobys are cautiously optimistic about their South African team, which is in Group A with France, Mexico and Uruguay. After pool play the top two teams in each of the eight brackets advance to the next round.
“They’ve done well the last 10 games,” said Spencer.
“I think they’ll go through to the next round,” said Emlyn, who established a website so fans could stay at his family’s home for a fee.
They are looking forward to watching games at stadiums they are familiar with.
“This will be awesome for our country,” said Spencer, who hopes a positive experience for fans will lead to future tourism as they spread the word about South Africa.