African stars set to compete in EFL Championship Playoff Final
A long and gruelling season comes to a conclusion on Saturday, as Aston Villa and Fulham collide in the playoff final -- a fixture which offers significant African interest.
This weekend's showdown has come to be known as the 'richest game' in world football, with the winning team set to have their revenue boosted by a minimum of £170 million.
It's the kind of fee that can transform a club's fortunes, while evidence from recent seasons suggests that the vanquished side can often have a hard time bouncing back from the blow of missing out on the Promised Land.
A meeting between Aston Villa and Fulham brings together two clubs who have become familiar faces in the top flight in recent seasons, and it's a contest that should appeal to neutrals.
Villa are the division's heavyweights, former European champions who boast familiar faces - both African and otherwise - while Fulham are arguably the Championship's most attractive side to watch.
Both sides can call on excellent African talent, although while it's the Cottagers' Ryan Sessegnon - and England youth international with West African origin - who's stolen the headlines this term, Villa's Albert Adomah could well be the match-winner on the day.
The 30-year-old is coming to the end of a sensational campaign - the best of his career - in which he's been one of the most impressive performers in this star-studded Villains' squad.
He's netted 14 goals and contributed five assists, rolling back the years to play a key role and inject pace, movement and a cutting edge into the final third for the Midlanders.
With Ivorian striker Jonathan Kodjia injured for much of the campaign, and consequently weighing in with just one goal, Adomah has stepped up, and bested his own personal season best and establishing himself as Villa's top scorer.
His form has earned him an unexpected recall to the Ghana national side ahead of the resumption of their African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, and he'll surely be desperate to make up for lost time and prove he can cut it in the Prem.
The Black Star has been promoted before - with Middlesbrough - but he was sold to Villa (and back down to the Championship) only two games into the top-flight season in 2016-17.
Ahmed El Mohamady, the only African member of this Aston Villa side who will compete at the World Cup this summer, has considerably more top flight experience, having featured for Sunderland and Hull in the PL.
The 30-year-old has featured 44 times for Steve Bruce's side this season, although an injury sustained in the semi-final against Boro may limit his participation in the final.
While El Mohamady's fitness problems have come at the wrong time, the aforementioned Kodjia could emerge as an unlikely hero after a miserable campaign.
The Ivorian netted 19 goals in each of the last two seasons, but his participation has been limited this term due to ankle problems. Could he rise off the bench to play a decisive part in Saturday's Wembley clash?
Christopher Samba is another familiar face to Premier League audiences, having represented both Blackburn Rovers and Queen Park Rangers in the top flight.
However, the 34-year-old has been a bit-part player during the second half of the season, largely watching on as John Terry and James Chester - in front of the excellent Sam Johnstone - have kept the clean sheets to take Villa to the playoff final.
Both Villa and Fulham have enjoyed the services of English youngsters of African origin on loan from Premier League clubs this term, with Josh Onomah (Tottenham Hotspur) and Axel Tuanzebe (Manchester United) featuring for the Villains.
Fulham have handed 18 appearances to Liverpool's Anglo-Nigerian wideman Sheyi Ojo, with the 20-year-old contributing four goals and two assists during an encouraging campaign.
He's certainly built on his showings on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers last term, and having already been handed eight Premier League appearances by Jurgen Klopp, there's hope that he could yet become a top-flight regular.
Ojo is one of several African attacking talents on the Cottagers' books, although neither Floyd Ayite nor Neeskens Kebano are ending the season in particularly strong form.
Instead, the Londoners will be placing some of their scoring hopes on the shoulders of Franco-Mauritanian forward Aboubakar Kamara.
The 23-year-old has taken his time to adapt to the English game, but seven goals in 31 appearances - of which only nine have been starts - isn't the worst return for a player still in his first campaign overseas.
Kamara was particularly lethal in the victories over Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town, as well as the draw at Hull City, but having failed to score since late January, frustrations have started to boil over, and he was booked for a shocking dive earlier this month.
It remains to be seen what role he will play on Saturday, with Aleksandar Mitrovic, Stefan Johansen and Sessengnon all chief goal threats for Slavisa Jokanovic's side.