Fulham will advance to the third round of Europa League qualifying. Of that, I have little doubt.
The real story heading into today's contest with Crusaders F.C. surrounds sectarian riots that erupted throughout Northern Ireland earlier this week, predominantly in Belfast.
The violence is nothing new to Northern Ireland, even after the end of The Troubles. Every year, on July 12, the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization, marches through the streets of Belfast to celebrate Protestant king William of Orange's victory over Catholic king James II in the Battle of Boyne. On the night before the parade, celebrators light bonfires all across Northern Ireland. The two events typically serve as a catalyst for violent responses from Catholic youths.
Though things did manage to quiet down last night, it's still hard to imagine the once-highly anticipated arrival of Fulham will be seen by as jovial of a crowd as expected. There is hope, however, that the capacity crowd will still vocally embrace the match in a proper, exciting fashion, avoiding hateful songs and imagery, and do a real job of putting the week's events behind the city.
I can hope, at least.
Most of the rioters appeared to be teens, with little firsthand knowledge of how bad things once were during the decades-long Troubles across Ireland. Indeed, as one observer of the fracas noted on Twitter:
"Kids are leaving the streets of Ardoyne as if they've been to a rock concert. Incredible."
A rock concert with gasoline bombs, rubber bullets and dozens of arrests and injuries between rioters and police.
Police presence should be heavy at Seaview, home of Crusaders, to ensure that all goes to according to plan with the eyes of the Irish sporting world focused squarely on the tiny park.
Seaview is located in the northern section of Belfast, while most of the rioting occurred in Belfast's Ardoyne district, specifically in the Estoril Park and Brompton Park areas, approximately two-to-three miles southwest of the ground.
With the park relatively far away from Belfast's Catholic enclave and violence slowing to a halt last night, it's hard to imagine a real group with bad intentions will find their way to the park and start things anew. Still, it's a talking point that no one expected, or wanted, to arise prior to the match.
Soccer often seems far less significant in the face of historical violence. At best a pleasant distraction, at worst a catalyst for further madness. I'll obviously be wearing my supporter-hat when the match kicks off a little later today, but the result I'm really hoping for is a dour affair outside of Seaview.