Bangladesh braced for Pro League
Every cloud has a silver lining, and having endured years of financial difficulties, Bangladesh will launch its first professional league on 21 December in the hope that it will herald the beginning of a new and exciting era.
Announcing the launch, Anwarul Haq Helal, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), said: "We are confident that the professional league will reclaim the popularity the game has lost to cricket in the recent times."
In alluding to cricket's dominance in his country, Helal acknowledged the major challenge to football's development, although he could also have pointed to a football history considerably more well-established than many other Asian nations. The beautiful game was, in fact, introduced to Bangladesh as early as the late 19th century, and was soon attracting increasing attention and interest from the local people.
That development continued after the Bangladesh Football Federation was founded in 1972, becoming affiliated to FIFA two years later. Indeed, from then until the end of 1980s, football drew huge crowds across the country, and Bangladeshi fans - like their counterparts across the world - were to be found eagerly following their teams, chanting in stadiums and discussing their favourite players.
This golden era didn't last long, however, as cricket's supremacy grew in strength in the nation's sports community, particularly after 1997, when the Bangladesh national team won a place at the Cricket World Cup.
Nevertheless, the extent of football's untapped potential in a nation of 138 million people can only be guessed at, and with the help and guidance of the Asian Football Association's Vision Asia Committee, a Vision Bangladesh project was launched in 2005 focusing on the overall development of football and the establishment of a professional league.
After two years of united and diligent work, their joint efforts have paid dividends. "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."
Mohammedan the team to beat
With the big kick-off in the Bangladesh Pro League drawing ever nearer, excitement across the nation is running high. While this sense of anticipation is evident in discussions over which of the 12 teams will win the inaugural title, few quibble with the assertion that Mohammedan Sporting start the season as strong favourites.
Founded in 1933 and one of eight Dhaka-based teams in the Bangladesh Pro League, Mohammedan have long been a major force in the nation. Since winning the first division title for the first time back in 1962, the Dhaka giants have bagged 15 championships and finished as runners-up a further 12 times.
Every football fan in Bangladesh is now eagerly looking forward to finding out if anyone can stop them.
The 12 teams competing in the inaugural Bangladesh Pro League:
Arambagh Krira Sangha
Badda Jagoroni Sangsad
Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra
Chittagong Mohammedan Sporting Club
Chittagong Abahoni Limited
Faridpur District Sports Association
Jalalabad Football Limited
Khulna Abahoni Limited
Mohammedan Sporting Club
Shiekh Rasel Krira Chakra