Celtic: Van Dijk plan to nurture ball-striking

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CELTIC have got more than a defender who can play a bit in new £2.5 million signing from Groningen Virgil van Dijk. The imposing 21-year-old doesn’t just pride himself on his ball-playing ability, he’s planning to nurture his ball-striking as well.

“Free-kicks used to be my thing and I would practise them at training. I haven’t really taken them in the last six months but I’m going to start doing it again because I think I can work that out,” said the Dutchman, right, who cites attacking trickster Ronaldinho as his childhood hero but cultured centre-backs Vincent Kompany, David Luiz and Thiago Silva as the players he now likes to model himself on.

The desire of Van Dijk to play a bit further forward than his own team’s defensive third in May 2011 brought the under-21 internationalist his most memorable footballing experience. The play-offs that the Dutch league employs to decide one of their Europa League’s representatives paired Groningen with ADO Den Haag. In the away first leg, Van Dijk’s team lost 5-1.

“Nobody gave us a chance in the return match but it was the craziest day of my life,” he said. “Our stadium wasn’t full but I scored with a free-kick to put us 2-1 ahead on the night and then it became full. I scored again to make it 4-1 and then we equalised on aggregate from a penalty with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately, I had to go off with cramp during extra time and we ended up losing on penalties. That’s the closest I’ve come to European football until now.”

New club Celtic will be hoping they avoid such crazy days in their impending Champions League qualifying campaign.