Celtic’s Filip Benkovic eager to continue to testing himself in Europe

Filip Benkovic, in action against Hibernian on Saturday, is eager to add to the European experience  he gained with Dinamo Zagreb. Picture: SNS.
Filip Benkovic, in action against Hibernian on Saturday, is eager to add to the European experience he gained with Dinamo Zagreb. Picture: SNS.
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Having scored ten times in their last two outings away to St Johnstone and at home to Hibernian, Celtic appear to have rediscovered their best form, which had been carelessly misplaced for most of the current campaign.

Defender Filip Benkovic knows they will need to be at their best to take a much-needed point or three from RB Leipzig at the Red Bull Arena on Thursday.

Brendan Rodgers’ side won their opening Europa League group match against Rosenborg but the 3-1 defeat by Red Bull Salzburg earlier this month means that another reverse would severely impair their prospects of progressing to the knockout stage of the competition in the New Year.

Benkovic, who signed on loan from Leicester City in August, admits that the opportunity to test himself against the best in Europe was what helped convince him to move to the Premiership.

“European football is top for me,” he said. “These games against clubs like Leipzig are special because the players are all at international level and they are main players in their national teams.

“It’s a challenge for us to see where we are and to try to be competitive. We want to compete and to prove to everyone that we can do that.

“Leipzig played very good football last year – even Bayern Munich could not say this was a certain three points because of the level Leipzig have reached.

“But we can’t go there to give up. We must fight for the 90 minutes and try to get some points.”

Leicester paid Dinamo Zagreb £13 million for Benkovic this summer after he had experienced continental competition with his hometown club.

“We played Champions league qualifiers and this year the team is in the Europa League,” he said. “The biggest game I played was against Sevilla – or actually Lyon. I felt good in these games. The game I liked most was a 1-0 defeat by Lyon in Zagreb. It’s still a good memory because we played very well. I was up against Alexandre Lacazette – it was a hard night but that can only give you good experience. This is the level I want to get to one day.”

The Croatian missed the defeat in Austria due to injury but he believes that he and Dedryck Boyata, pictured, can shut out the Germans on their own turf.

“It can be our toughest game but we have one clean sheet so why not another?” he asked.

“I am looking forward to playing beside Dedryck. He plays for the Belgian national team, which shows his quality.

“Every day in training, I watch his moves and I’ve learned a lot. Just from that I file away everything I learn from him in my head.

“He also gives me advice – just like Jozo and the other players, which is positive. Celtic have a good mix of young and experienced players in the central defensive positions.

“That means the younger ones like myself have very good energy while the older professionals bring their knowledge.

“We can have a good season together but it will not be easy. There are a lot of good teams so we must work hard every single day – we can’t relax in any game; we must push hard all the time.”

On a lighter note, Benkovic claimed that one of the benefits of playing for Celtic is his commute from Glasgow to their Lennoxtown training ground in rural East 
Dunbartonshire.

“What I like is that on my drive to training I see a lot of farms on the journey and I like this very much,” said the 21-year-old.

“Who knows what will happen at the end of my career. Maybe one day I can open my own farm. I have been thinking about this because my family have worked in the 
countryside.

“I come from Zagreb but my grandparents come from the countryside. My father grew up in a small village.

“Sometimes I used to help my grandparents on a farm – but now I’m too busy with my football. I don’t know what my team-mates will think about this. I don’t know what Scott Brown will think. Maybe we can get together in this idea for a farm!”

Brown would probably tell him he was talking bullocks…