Some of the most intense, exciting, high stakes soccer games in the world will not consist in the English Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. These games will be played by teams in the English Championship as they face each other for the final EPL promotion spot.
In the English soccer pyramid, three teams promote to the EPL every year. The top two at the end of the season automatically promote but the exciting part happens with teams placed 3rd to 6th. These teams enter the four team playoff in a two legged semifinal while the winners go to Wembley Stadium for a shot at promotion and a whole lot of money.
This tournament is the “perfect storm” for soccer fans. Due to the rise in worldwide TV rights for the Playoff Final, the winner gets to promote to the EPL and receive upwards of $200 million while the loser gets next to nothing. That kind of pressure is a surreal experience. Last year, QPR scored the winning goal going into stoppage time while being down a man for the last 40 minutes. QPR promoted to the Premier League while Derby Country stayed in the Championship and failed to promote to the EPL this year.
That’s the beauty of the tournament. The difference between who wins and who loses can come down to a few seconds and can result in a historical shift in the team. For instance, Swansea won in 2011 and they used the money they received in the Playoff Final to solidify the future of that team to become a top half EPL team. West Ham did something similar in 2012. This game can give a team hope for future success if they win and give a team uncertainty and doubt that they’ll ever get to the Premier League if they lose.
This year, 3rd place Middlesbrough face 6th place Brentford and 4th place Norwich City meet 5th place Ipswich Town in the East Anglian Derby. In both series, one team has been undefeated over the other. Middlesbrough and Norwich won both games against their opponents this year and they must be regarded as the favorites to go to the Final at Wembley. Middlesbrough/Brentford is on beIN Sport Friday while Norwich/Ipswich is Saturday at 7:15 AM ET on beIN Sport. They will repeat the games again at the same time, at the same day. The winner goes to Wembley Stadium for everything on May 25 at 10 AM ET.