Bangladesh pro league to challenge cricket's might

Bangladesh will launch its first football professional league this year in the hope that it will herald the beginning of a new and exciting era. "We are confident that the professional league will reclaim the popularity the game has lost to cricket in the recent times," the Bangladesh Football Federation General Secretary Anwarul Haq Helal said at the launch. The BFF was founded in 1972 and affiliated to FIFA two years later. The national team made the Asian Cup finals 1980 and football drew huge crowds across the country until the early 1990s.

The game has subsequently lived in the shadow of professional cricket, particularly after 1997, when Bangladesh won a place at the Cricket World Cup. But with the help of the Asian Football Association, the Vision Bangladesh project launched in 2005 has focussed on the overall development of football and the establishment of a professional league.

After two years of hard work, the joint efforts have paid off. "It's a big leap forward for the game in Bangladesh," said Helal of the new league. "For the first time in more than 100 years of football in this part of the world, the players can take the game seriously as a job." Twelve teams have already been selected to take part in the league including hot favourites Mohammedan.