Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata desperate for Champions League action

By Liam Maguire
17 February, 2017 12:00

DEDRYCK Boyata hopes to strut his stuff for Celtic in Europe again after missing the Hoops’ Champions League campaign this season.

The 26-year-old Belgium defender played in the unsuccessful Champions League qualifiers in 2015-16 under former boss Ronny Deila, also featuring in the subsequent Europa League campaign.

A muscle tear kept him out of the European Championship in France and he fell out of the Celtic picture following the arrival of manager Brendan Rodgers, playing only one game in the first half of the season when the Scottish champions beat Kilmarnock 1-0 at Rugby Park in November.

Boyata could only watch as the runaway Ladbrokes Premiership leaders fought their way into the group stages of European club football’s elite club competition.

There, they drew twice with his former club Manchester City and once with Borussia Monchengladbach, finishing bottom of a tough section won by Barcelona.

Ahead of the visit of Motherwell today, Boyata, an ever-present since the winter break, recalled the European nights earlier in the campaign and expressed his desire to get a taste next season.

He said: “It was difficult for the team but they got some results against some great teams.

“Personally it was very hard as I would like to have had a part.

“For ourselves, we can only move forward. As we have been improving this season, we want to be able show the same in Europe against big teams.

“It will be hard of course but if we manage to show the qualities we have been showing this season here then it will be a great step up for us.

“The Champions League is a tournament every club wants to play in.

“For myself, I can only look forward to this.

“It will be a big achievement for myself and the opportunity to show what we can do against teams who have been playing at that level.”

The rejuvenated Belgian has helped the Hoops stretch their unbeaten domestic run since the start of the season to 30 games and their lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership to 24 points, while also securing a place in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals.

Celtic, under Brendan Rodgers,  could go into Europe next season as treble winners in Scotland but Boyata is looking no further than Motherwell, who were thrashed 7-2 by Aberdeen at Pittodrie in midweek.

He said: “We need to take it step by step,” he said. “If we start thinking too far then I don’t think it will be positive. If we put in the same quality as we have in our games then we’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Celtic’s January signing Eboue Kouassi made his first appearance on Friday afternoon in a Youth Cup quarter-final tie against Hibernian.

The 19-year-old Ivorian midfielder, signed from Russian side FC Krasnodar for a reported fee of £2.8million, played for an hour as the Hoops’ Under-20 side ran out 1-0 winners at the Oriam sports performance centre in Edinburgh.

17 February, 2017 12:00 Football/Soccer