LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 21: Steve Sidwell of Fulham celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal during the UEFA Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match between Fulham and Crusaders at Craven Cottage on July 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
It's amazing how many parallels can be drawn between seemingly distant teams. The meteoric rise of RNK Split from their respective Croatian fourth tier would make way for some joyously reminiscent themes when told to any Fulham fan, and, it's that steely determination that tonight's opponents possess that will most likely provide a humbling stumbling block.
RNK Split aren't, admittedly, overly distinguished outside of their home country and you'd be hard pushed to find an average punter who could offer you any kind of relevancy related to the side who reign from the aptly named city of Split. Aptly named, of course, because RNK aren't the only team to reside from the aforementioned city, with Stoke's Europa opponents Hadjuk sharing the territory; though with the reward of far more splendour. RNK's neighbours have been far more successful over the course of Croatian football history, but the side known affectionately as 'The Worker's Club' will see this as the most impeccable of opportunities to place themselves on the proverbial map.
Our opponents started their Europa League campaign with reasonable furore, beating the Slovenian side NK Domzale both home and away, taking an aggregate scoreline of 5-2 in their favour. In the Croatian League, RNK have notched up three straight first place finishes and rounded off their inaugural First Division season with a quite respectable third place finish, which of course will eventually lead them to England's green and pleasant land, and perhaps more appropriately, Craven Cottage.
Fulham have yet to show any signs of real weakness in early season form, the only low point being a suffocatingly drab 0-0 draw in the Faroe Islands. Crusaders of Northern Ireland were defeated with an almost unnerving ease and with a pleasant degree of fluency that Martin Jol will surely want to see more of. Bobby Zamora has found his form early on and even with attacking intent, Hughes, Senderos, Hangeland and co look as assured as you'd ever expect them to be.
Martin Jol has moved early to give details of the squad he has flown out to Croatia, where his team will train and play on a neutral pitch twelve miles from RNK Split's real home ground. Yet again, Dempsey and Dembele will not take part, but Jol is clearly excited at the possibility of new signing Pajtim Kasami making his début in a white shirt. The signing from Palermo has flown out, and given the completion of paperwork, is free to play. Marcel Gecov is also in Croatia and could well play alongside his fellow new signing.
Amid all the potential excitement of a new Europa League journey and some fresh blood to complement it, though, captain Danny Murphy has had his input on what he considers to be a quite dull and monotonous stage of the season: "Hopefully we can get away with no casualties or injuries, so if there is a lack of excitement about it forgive me.
"But at this stage it is still a job that needs doing rather than one you get excited about."
Well, at least he wants to win.
Score Prediction: RNK Split 1 - 2 Fulham
Predicted Line-up: Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs; Duff, Murphy, Sidwell, Risse; Zamora, Johnson