The Asian Cup finals will be played from July 7 to 29 next year, and is to be jointly hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

 

However Peter Velappan, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) secretary-general, visited Bangkok earlier this week to inspect the Supachalasai and Rajamangala stadiums and expressed displeasure over the lack of progress in improving facilities and marketing the tournament.

 

Velappan threatened to replace Thailand with Singapore as a joint-host, whose stadiums were already up to the required standard, according to the secretary-general.

 

Singaporean football officials weren't giving much away on Wednesday with John Koh, general secretary of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), not willing to comment as he had heard nothing official from the AFC.

 

"We have not been officially informed of any change, so we are not able to respond," Koh told Reuters.

 

An unnamed FAS official said that Singapore would consider the request if an approach was made for it to take over as a last minute host.

 

Surayud Chulanont, Thailand's new interim Prime Minister, agreed to support the 16-team tournament and earned his country a 90-day reprieve in which to improve facilities and suitably impress AFC officials.

 

Bangladesh to start banging in goals

 

Meanwhile, Bangladesh are planning to launch their first professional football league in an effort to boost the popularity of the sport in the cricket-mad country.

 

"We will launch the country's first professional football league on December 21," Anwarul Haq Helal, general secretary of the Bangladesh Football Federation, told AFP.

 

"We are confident that the professional league will reclaim the popularity the game has lost to cricket in the recent times," he said.

 

Since Bangladesh won a place in the 1997 ICC World Cup and has since become a Test playing nation, cricket has become the country's favourite sport, knocking football out of top place.

 

Under a format approved by the AFC, the new competition would be comprised of eight teams from Dhaka and four from regional cities to form a 12 team league.

 

"It's a big leap forward for the game in Bangladesh. 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," said Helal.

 

Soldiers of colonial Britain introduced football to the Indian subcontinent, including Bangaldesh, in the 19th century.