MENA Sports Wrap: Neymar, Bounou new jewels in Saudi Pro League crown

MENA Sports Wrap: Neymar, Bounou new jewels in Saudi Pro League crown
In what might have seemed impossible even this time last year, the Saudi Pro League has managed to bag some of the greatest footballers of a generation.
4 min read
18 August, 2023
Brazilian football star Neymar signed for Al-Hilal this week [The New Arab]

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi: widely considered the greatest footballers of a generation. In what might have seemed impossible even this time last year, the Saudi Pro League has managed to bag two of the three.

We're taking a look at this week's biggest signings for the Saudi top flight, and look ahead to the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which starts next week and has representation aplenty from the Middle East and North Africa region.

Summer spree sustained: Neymar, Bounou sign to Saudi Pro League's Al-Hilal

Brazilian striker Neymar this week signed a two-year deal reportedly worth €400 million ($435 million) with Saudi Pro League side Al-Hilal after six years at Paris Saint-Germain.

The 31-year-old, who has enjoyed record-breaking spells with Barcelona and Santos in his native Brazil, said he was "very happy" to join the Pro League, calling it a "new challenge".

He also credited Ronaldo, the first footballer of global standing to join the Pro League after signing with Al-Nassr in January, as lighting up a new trail in football.

"I believe Cristiano Ronaldo started all of this and everybody called him 'crazy', and this and that. Today you see the league grow more and more," Neymar said in an interview after the transfer.

More acquisition success for Al-Hilal - on Thursday, the club confirmed it had signed Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper who helped Morocco in their incredible run at the 2022 Qatar World Cup and Sevilla clinch two Europa League titles.

The 32-year-old was signed from Sevilla on a three-year contract. The Spanish side are to make 21 million euros ($22.8 million) from the sale, although it is not clear yet how lucrative it will be for the keeper, who is nicknamed Bono.

Al-Hilal were reportedly able to fight off interest from some of Europe's most prestigious teams for Bono, including Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

The purchases - as well as all the other star buys this summer - have Saudi Arabia well on their way towards to their goal of making the Pro League one of biggest in the world by the end of the decade.



MENA teams galore at the Basketball World Cup

The FIBA Basketball World Cup starts next week, and representation from teams from the Middle East and North Africa region is strong. Morocco can rest!

Five of the 32 teams to have qualified for the tournament are from the MENA region - Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and South Sudan.

They are unlikely to break the chokehold that European and North American teams have on the tournament.

Though Jordan and Lebanon put on impressive performances at the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, they lack serious World Cup experience. Egypt's team is very young. South Sudan's team and general basketball infrastructure is still fledgling. Iran's players are either past their prime or yet to reach it.

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But if performances by underdog teams at recent major tournaments (see Morocco at both the men and women's football World Cups) have taught us anything, it is to await their performances with optimism. Anything could happen.

The tournament, co-hosted by Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines, will take place from 25 August to 10 September.

Al-Nassr beat Al-Hilal in all-Saudi Arab Cup of Champions final

The word nassr means victory in Arabic, and the Saudi Pro League team Al-Nassr lived up to the name on Saturday by winning the 2023 Arab Club Champions Cup.

Al-Nassr beat Al-Hilal 2-1 in the pan-Arab tournament's all-Saudi final, with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging both of his team's goals.

The tournament allowed Saudi football teams to try out some of their new star purchases, including Karim Benzema, who moved to Al-Ittihad from Real Madrid last month.

Saudi Arabia will be hosting another international tournament this month this year – the FIFA Club World Cup, which will see winners of regional tournaments pit against each other.

The Club World Cup will take place in the city of Jeddah, from 12 to 22 December.