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Southampton wins the ‘most valuable single match in world football’ to secure promotion to Premier League

By Ben Morse, CNN

(CNN) — Southampton won what has been dubbed the “most valuable single match in world football” to secure its promotion to the Premier League on Sunday.

Adam Armstrong scored the only goal of the game in the first half as Southampton defeated Leeds United 1-0 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium to book its return to the top-flight of English soccer.

According to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, Southampton will receive at least £140 million ($177 million) across the next three seasons through “projected increases in matchday, broadcast and commercial revenue.”

That would increase to more than £305 million ($386 million) if the club avoids relegation in its first season.

Southampton joins both Leicester City and Ipswich Town in securing promotion to the Premier League this season.

After the game, Southampton’s captain Jack Stephens struggled to control his emotions as he summed up his elation, calling it “the best feeling I’ve ever had in football.”

“I’m so proud to be captain of this club. I’m so proud of the boys today, I think they’ve been unbelievable,” Stephens told Sky Sports.

“I think we probably didn’t play our best game today but we showed a different side. A few people have doubted us over this season. Can we defend? Can we dig in? I think we really showed that today.”

A lot on the line

With a place in the Premier League on the line – and the financial reward that comes with it – the Championship play-off final comes with high stakes and high pressure.

And the pressure was particularly high ahead of this year’s final, with both teams looking to bounce back to the top-flight of English soccer at the first time of asking having suffered relegation last season.

Pouring rain before the game in northwest London only heightened to add to the dramatic nature of the day, before bright sunshine broke through as the game began.

The game’s opening exchanges were played with the magnitude of the occasion weighing on them, with chances few and far between.

But the game sparked into life halfway through the first half when a neat through-ball from Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone sprung Armstrong running into the Leeds box before he blasted the ball past goalkeeper Illan Meslier to score his 24th league goal of the season.

Despite Leeds opening up in the hopes of an equalizer, it was Southampton who came closest to doubling its lead, with only Meslier and key defensive interventions sparing Leeds from going into halftime with a two-goal deficit.

Just minutes into the second half, Leeds almost drew level but Crysencio Summerville’s curled effort flew just wide of the post.

Leeds continued to pile on the pressure in search of that illusive equalizer and came inches away from doing so when Wales international Dan James hit a curling effort against the bar.

But despite pushing and pushing, Leeds was unable to find a way through and Southampton secured its return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

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