Bangladesh's first professional football championship kicked off Friday aimed at boosting the sport's flagging appeal in the cricket-obsessed country.

At least 25,000 people watched the league's inaugural game at Dhaka's national stadium, marking the start of a new era for Bangladesh football, said Bangladesh Football Federation general secretary Anwarul Haq Helal.

"It will take five years time to fulfill our purpose but we hope there will be a year on year improvement," said Helal.

"We are changing from semi-professional to professional and we believe that this will see a change in the mentality of the players and improve the quality of the game," he added.

Cricket has dislodged football in the popularity stakes since 1997 when the national cricket team won a place in World Cup cricket.

Interest in cricket intensified further in 2000 after the cricket team also won a place in Test cricket, the highest cricketing standard in the world.

Under the new format approved by the Asian Football Confederation, 11 teams - eight from Dhaka and three from regional cities - will take part in the league.

Corporate backers have been secured by all the teams, which have also started to sell shirts. A private televsion channel has signed a deal to show at least 40 matches live, including the first match.

Football was introduced to the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh, during the late 19th century by soldiers of the then colonial power, Britain.

Dhaka's widely followed football league dates back to the 1950s although the standard of play has suffered due to the lack of a professional footing.