Celtic can make Europa League final - Denayer

Jason Denayer: International ambitions. Picture: PA
Jason Denayer: International ambitions. Picture: PA
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JASON Denayer believes Celtic can overcome their Champions League disappointment by going all the way to the Europa League final this season.

The Scottish champions begin their Group D campaign in Europe’s secondary tournament with a trip to face Red Bull Salzburg in Austria on Thursday night.

Celtic endured a miserable Champions League qualifying campaign which saw them effectively knocked out twice, eliminated in the play-off round by Maribor after being reprieved in the previous round when a 6-1 aggregate defeat to Legia Warsaw was wiped out by the Polish side’s blunder in fielding a suspended player.

But Denayer insists Ronny Deila’s side have the potential to go all the way in the Europa League and, in what would be an ironic twist, return to 
Warsaw where the final will be staged next May.

“It all depends on us,” said the Belgian defender. “If we play as we can, if we play to 100 per cent of our ability, we can go to the final.

“It’s about us. Celtic is a big club with high expectations and we will try to meet them.

“Everyone is disappointed about not getting into the Champions League, 
because all the supporters and all of the players wanted to be there.

“But we can’t focus on the past and say ‘that’s bad’. We must concentrate on the Europa League and do all we can do in that competition.”

Denayer made his European debut for Celtic when they drew 1-1 in the first leg of the Champions League play-off round tie against Maribor in Slovenia, but he was not included in the side for the 1-0 defeat in the return fixture at Parkhead when manager Deila opted for Efe Ambrose instead as Virgil van Dijk’s central defensive partner.

Now the on-loan Manchester City teenager is hopeful of an extended 
Europa League run alongside van Dijk who has remained with Celtic despite expressing a desire to move to England during the recent transfer window.

“The coach told me before the Maribor game that he was going to put some extra experience in the team,” added Denayer.

“I know I don’t have experience like the other defenders here. I sat on the bench and hoped to go on but I didn’t. Now I leave the past behind me and move forward. I hope to play in the next European game against Salzburg.

“The Europa League is a big thing for me. There are different styles of player to face, so we have to face different challenges.

“I feel very good playing alongside Virgil. He speaks to me a lot. He is very calm. When he speaks, it is not aggressively. It is better to speak calmly, we understand each other better that way.

“Virgil is a very good player and I think he can play at the highest level. I’m very happy he stayed at the club.”

Van Dijk’s frustration at Celtic’s 
refusal to sell him was soothed by his first call-up to the senior Dutch international squad last week. Denayer, a current Belgian under-21 international, is hopeful of following the same path with his country.

“I hope playing for Celtic can get me into the Belgian squad,” said the 19-year-old.

“If I can play regularly for Celtic in the Europa League, that will help me with that objective. But my first objective is to be good for Celtic. After that, I can think about Belgium.

“Virgil is in the Dutch squad now as a Celtic player, so it can be done. But Virgil and me are different. He is more experienced.

“I don’t want to go too quickly. If I can get into the squad, good. If not, I 
will work hard and hopefully get in later.”

Denayer scored his second goal in as many home matches for Celtic on Saturday as they defeated Aberdeen 2-1 to move just three points off the top of the Scottish Premiership with a game in hand.

It was an afternoon which saw the return of captain Scott Brown from injury and debuts for recent signings Aleksandar Tonev, Stefan Scepovic and John Guidetti.

“Scott Brown is a very good guy off the pitch but the most important thing is he can lead the team on the pitch, he has a lot of character,” said Denayer. “He has a great mentality and is good for the team. We need someone like him.

“It was a good start against Aberdeen but we don’t feel the difference with the new players in the team. It’s good, it’s okay.

“I knew John Guidetti before at Manchester City and also when he played for Feyenoord I heard of him. Everyone knows he is a good player. Now we wait for him to score goals for Celtic.

“Scottish football is not the same style as Dutch football but that doesn’t matter for John, he can score goals here too and help the team. He is someone who speaks and laughs a lot, but in a good sense.

“For me, I’m very happy to score two goals in two home games now and it gives me more confidence. I feel good now.

“I think we are getting close to how the manager wants us to play. In the first half against Aberdeen, we did very well. The second half was more difficult. We need to train more now, we need time and we will be better.”