VIRGIL van Dijk believes talk of a call-up to the senior Dutch national squad has vindicated his decision to join Celtic in the summer.
The central defender, outstanding in Celtic’s 2-1 Champions League victory over Ajax on Tuesday night, says there were critics in his homeland who felt he made a poor career choice by moving to Scottish football in the summer. But Van Dijk’s impressive form for Neil Lennon’s side in recent weeks has placed him firmly on Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal’s radar as he prepares for next summer’s World Cup Finals in Brazil.
With the 22-year-old receiving rave reviews for his display against the Dutch champions this week, there is growing speculation he could be handed his first call-up from Van Gaal for next month’s challenge matches against Japan and Colombia.
“In the beginning, people back home thought I had made a bad decision coming here because no-one there follows the Scottish league,” said Van Dijk.
“But I knew what I was doing. I thought about it a lot and I knew that Celtic was an unbelievably big club. You could see that again on Tuesday night. Does the result against Ajax maybe prove those people wrong? Yeah, but that is not my motivation or what I am thinking about. I just want to play good games to help this club. We want to build a great season.
“As I said, before I came here from Groningen, I knew Celtic was a top club. But the fans amaze me with the support we get. The European nights are obviously special, but they are also there in the league games.
“The talk about the national team was not on my mind before the game. Not at all. I’ve read and heard what has been said but I was not thinking about it. I was focused on my game and I just wanted to play a good game for myself, for the fans and for the club. I think we did well in the end.
“But, of course, playing international football is an ambition. It is always an ambition for every player playing at this level. You want to go as high as you can and also play for your national team.
“The Champions League is something that keeps you in the picture. It is the highest level of club competition and you always want to show what you can do in these games. Playing for Celtic should not be underestimated as this is a good club. But if things go well and we stay in the Champions League then that can only be positive.”
Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster is also hopeful his part in the club’s Champions League campaign can enhance his prospects of a first cap with England as he looks to secure a place in their squad for Brazil next summer.
The 25-year-old, who produced another critical save on the big occasion with his brilliant stop to deny Ajax an equaliser just a minute before Celtic took a 2-0 lead on Tuesday night, has yet to play for his country despite being included in several squads by manager Roy Hodgson. England play Chile and Germany in challenge matches at Wembley next month.
“There has been no mention about me being used by England in the friendlies which are coming up,” said Forster.
“There is still a lot of football to be played between now and next month and your club form has to be good before you can even think about playing for your country. If it happens, then it happens and it would be terrific but, until it does, I’m just concentrating on Celtic.
“The whole England thing is a bit of a bonus at the moment. For me, it’s all about playing well for Celtic and, if I can do that, the rest will take care of itself. Playing in the Champions League possibly gives me the chance to both help Celtic qualify from the group and improve my England chances at the same time but I’m not really thinking about that right now. You can imagine all these possibilities but you can’t really control it. You can only worry about what you can control and you do that by taking each game as it comes.”
One Celtic player who can feel assured about his participation in football’s greatest event next June is left-back Emilio Izaguirre. The victory over Ajax came just a week after he had helped Honduras clinch their place in the finals. They will start their build-up with friendlies against Ecuador and hosts Brazil next month.
“It’s been an amazing week for both my club and my country,” said Izaguirre. “To qualify for the World Cup finals with Honduras last week was something very special.
“It was crazy over there for the people when we managed to do it. They were excited and very happy. To have Brazil next summer to look forward to is incredible for my career. It is where any footballer wants to be in the middle of next year.
“But then you come back and you have to get the focus back straight away for Celtic. Now we managed to get that win in the group stages of the Champions League. It was great for the team and that is the important thing, but, of course, it made it a nice end to the past few days for me.”