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Hull City back in the Premier League; playoffs set after last day of England’s Championship

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Hull City may be one of the least-impressive teams to earn automatic promotion, but they have the summer to correct those problems, because after today’s draws at the KC Stadium and Vicarage Road, the Tigers are back in the Premier League, joining league-winners Cardiff City as automatic promotees from England’s Football Championship.

But Steve Bruce’s side practically volunteered to be pulled into a playoff. Hosting the already-promoted Bluebirds on the season’s last day, Hull went down early in the second half before goals from Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane looked to have the Tigers promoted. One point up on third-place Watford ahead of today’s 12 simultaneous kick offs, Hull knew three points would send them up.

Yet in the 93rd minute, a handball by defender Abdoulaye Faye sent Nicky Maynard to the spot, a state that brought Hull’s horrible form back into perspective. In mid-April, the Tigers looked sure bets to join Cardiff in the Premiership, but one point in three games ahead of the Bluebirds’ visit brought Watford back into play. And when Maynard beat David Stockdale in the 95th minute, the Hornets had fate in their hands.

Unfortunately, Gianfranco Zola’s team couldn’t find the late goal that would have snatched automatic promotion. While a visit from Leeds United should have meant three points, the Whites were able to take a 1-1 draw from Vicarage Road, sending Watford into a four-team playoff for the last promotion spot. The result also allowed Hull to back into the Premier League.

The Tigers’ ability to get the league’s second-most points from a 46-match season is an obvious argument to their quality, one that precludes any claim (possibly inadvertently hinted here) they’re undeserving of their spot. Yet powered by a midseason, post-Bruce-hiring run, Hull bares a vague resemblance to last year’s Reading – a team with Championship mid-table talent that found a mid-season rhythm and rode it into the Premier League. Add in a pedestrian +7 goal difference, there’s more than one reason to think this is the beginning of another Hull yo-yo, even if there’s a shade of poor taste in bringing this up moments after the club’s secured promotion.

Hull were last in the Premier League in 2009-10, the end of a two-year run that began when a sixth-placed team went through the Championship playoff and into England’s top division. They were saved on the last day in 2008-09 before finishing 19th in 2009-10.

Now they’re back, and with the cash injection provided by Premier League broadcast rights, they’ll have the same shot given to every other promoted club. If they spend wisely and manage their season well (neither of which Reading did), they can stay up, their Championship run-in be damned.

source: Getty ImagesPlayoffs set

With their home draw, Watford’s route to the Premier League now does through Wembley. They’ll face Leicester City in one half of the bracket, while Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion meet on the other.

That makes Bolton the day’s big loser. The Trotters came into the day in sixth place and needed only a win over visiting, mid-table Blackpool to secure a playoff spot. But like Hull and Watford, they left their destiny in others’ hands, giving up two early goals to spot the Seasiders a lead they never gave up. With the 2-2 draw, the turnaround Doughie Freedman engineered after Owen Coyle’s dismissal fell short. A 91st minute goal by Leicester City’s Antony Knockaertat rival Nottingham Forest allowed the Foxes to secure the league’s last playoff spot.

Brighton and Palace both got home wins against relegated sides, confirming relegation for Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. For Wolves, it was their second successive relegation. Bistol City, 10 points adrift of 23rd place Wolverhampton, join the duo in League One.

WATCH: Walcott compares Wenger speech to Pacino

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What if Tony D’Amato of American football was Antoine Dumond of the world’s game?

Theo Walcott says Arsene Wenger inspired him to make that comparison after a recent pregame speech, a fiery number that convinced the Arsenal attacker how badly his manager wanted to win the Premier League.

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Speaking to Arsenal TV for a series of questions on former and current teammates — and Wenger — Walcott shared a pretty funny tidbit:

“The manager did a speech the other day. I won’t be able to do the speech because it was that good.”

“It genuinely reminded me of the film ‘Any Given Sunday’. I actually said that to him, and I was little bit embarrassed.’ You remind me of that film, that speech,’ I didn’t know if he had seen the film.

“Just showing the passion and how hard, and how long it’s been as well. He really wants it, like all of his players.”

Here’s the thing, though: Walcott doesn’t give us the answer as to whether Wenger has seen “Any Given Sunday”. And how about you, Theo, do you see yourself in Willie Beamon or Cap Rooney?

CAS rejects Serbia’s challenge to Kosovo joining UEFA

Supporters of Kosovo's national soccer team raise Kosovo flag during their international friendly soccer match at Adem Jashari Stadium in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kosovo host Turkey for their second friendly match of the country's national football team. Turkey won the match 6-1. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Serbian soccer federation’s appeal against Kosovo joining UEFA has been rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The court ruled that Kosovo met the standard of UEFA entry rules because it is “recognized by the majority of the United Nations member states as an `independent state.”‘

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Serbia argued that Kosovo, which joined European soccer’s governing body last May despite not being a U.N. member, should be blocked.

CAS decided that because “there is no formal recognition of countries by the U.N.,” then acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood by most countries was valid for the soccer application.

European soccer federations voted 28-24 in favor of Kosovo’s entry to UEFA after Serbia led opposition to its former province.

Serbia and its allies, including Russia, have not recognized Kosovo since the Balkan republic declared independence in 2008.

UEFA’s decision led to Kosovo joining FIFA one week later, and being fast-tracked into a 2018 World Cup qualifying group.

Still, Ukraine hosted Kosovo in neutral Poland in October, because its government also does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

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First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”