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Aluko & Ilori square off in Championship playoff semifinals

Heung-Min Son
Heung-Min Son

While the regular Championship season was wrapped up the week before last, a series of Africa's stars are still battling for the opportunity to reach the Premier League next term via the playoffs, with Nigerian duo Sone Aluko and Tiago Ilori in particular set for a fascinating meeting on Tuesday.

The five-game mini-tournament involving the teams who finish third to sixth during the campaign must play off in two-legged semifinals, with the victors advancing to the final at Wembley on May 29 for the chance to play for a promotion that Deloitte estimate to be worth at least £170 million.

At the halfway stage of the semifinals, it's all to play for, with both pairs of teams playing out two draws over the weekend ahead of the midweek return fixtures.

On Tuesday evening, Reading host Fulham at the Madejski Stadium following a 1-1 draw between the duo in West London in the first leg.

The Royals have an awesome record at home, having lost just twice in front of their own fans all season, and if the Cottagers' attack -- so effective during the campaign -- fails to turn up again, the home side will be favourites to advance.

Nigeria's Aluko has tasted life in the Premier League with Hull City, and he's heading into the playoffs on the back of an encouraging year.

There's rarely been any doubt about his ability to make an impact at this level -- contrary to the top flight -- and his return of 10 assists and eight goals has been influential in taking Fulham to the brink of a return to the top tier.

Aluko, who is likely to feature on the right side of Slavisa Jokanovic's 4-2-3-1-cum-4-3-3 formation, will be looking to dovetail with Togo's Floyd Ayite. The West African lost his way in the first leg, but if he can rediscover the form he enjoyed in April, where he scored four and contributed three assists in the space of five games, then the Londoners might have the edge.

Ivorian frontman Cyriac and Democratic Republic of Congo playmaker Neeskens Kebano were both introduced from the bench in the first leg, and could be called on to fulfil a similar role this time around.

The former hasn't really taken to life in England yet since moving from Oostende midway through the campaign, but Kebano has demonstrated his class in patches -- how he'd love the opportunity to face Sheffield Wednesday in Wembley, having scored twice against them on May 7.

Ilori has been something of a flop in English football since he was signed from Sporting Lisbon for Liverpool by Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2013.

He never looked close to making the grade at Anfield, and failed to feature on loan at struggling Aston Villa last season.

This term, the Anglo-Nigerian-Portuguese defender has hardly fared much better after moving to Reading permanently for £3.75 million, making just six league appearances of which two have been starts.

However, the 24-year-old looks set to step into a pivotal role in Tuesday's showdown following the red card received by Royals skipper Paul McShane late in the first leg.

Any questions about just how good Ilori is -- and just how good he can be -- may well be answered this week.

In Wednesday's semifinal second leg, Sheffield Wednesday host Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town after the two neighbours played out a 0-0 draw at the John Smith Stadium in the first meeting.

The African interest here comes in the form of Town's German-Congolese wideman Elias Kachunga, one of several savvy pieces of recruitment by coach David Wagner.

Jurgen Klopp's former right-hand man wasn't afraid to trawl the German leagues for talent ahead of the season, and the 25-year-old was one of his key purchases, moving on loan from Ingolstadt 04.

Former Germany U-21 international Kachunga has looked the part in the second tier, regular weighing in with goals and assists as the Terriers have performed above expectations.

He's already tasted promotion success -- with Paderborn in Germany -- and has the quality to hurt the Wednesday as they seek to end their 17-year absence from the Premier League.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.

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