The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Southampton back in Premier League after winning playoff final, richest game in world football

Associated Press Sunday, 26 May 2024, 19:04 Last update: about 20 days ago

Southampton secured an immediate return to the Premier League on Sunday by beating Leeds 1-0 at Wembley Stadium in the Championship playoff final, the richest one-off match in world soccer.

An uplift of 140 million pounds ($180 million) in future earnings from broadcast revenue and prize money is guaranteed for the south-coast club thanks to Adam Armstrong’s 24th-minute winner at England’s national stadium.

Southampton is heading back up to the lucrative Premier League alongside Leicester and Ipswich, which took the automatic promotion spots in the Championship.

As for Leeds, whose U.S. ownership group contains major-winning golfers Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, the club’s playoff woes continued.

This was the sixth time Leeds has failed to go up via the post-season series. Making it even more painful is the fact that Leeds finished third in the regular season — three points above fourth-place Southampton — and missed out on automatic promotion after winning only one of its last six games.

Armstrong ran onto a through ball that pierced the Leeds defense and slotted a low finish into the far corner for his 24th league goal of the season for Southampton, which spent the entire game sitting back and playing on the counterattack.

Leeds had no answer, barely troubling Southampton’s five-man defense in what proved to be a tame ending to the season for one of England’s most celebrated clubs which — like Southampton — was relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2022-23 season.

“I think we probably didn’t play our best game today, but we showed a different side,” said Southampton defender Jack Stephens, who has been with the team since 2011. “A few people have doubted us this season — can we defend, can we dig in? I think we showed we can.”

The closest Leeds came was in the 84th minute when substitute Dan James smashed a dipping shot against the crossbar.

It was a third win against Leeds this season for Southampton, which has won their meetings home, away and now at Wembley.

Southampton is the team of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and is owned by Sport Republic, an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry fronted by Dragan Solak — the founder of eastern European telecommunications giant United Group. Solak was at Wembley, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Sunak was.

Southampton was in the Premier League from 2012-2023, a period notable for the club churning out a raft of talented academy players, following in the footsteps of the likes of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott.

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