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The future is bright but will it be Oranje?

VIRGIL van Dijk was the last player to run on to the pitch at the start of Celtic's training session yesterday morning.

Virgil Van Dijk was certain that a move to Celtic was right for him and is convinced he has improved. Picture: SNS
Virgil Van Dijk was certain that a move to Celtic was right for him and is convinced he has improved. Picture: SNS

Another minute or two and he would have been in danger of receiving a fine. Having said that, no-one is in greater need of making a successful late run.

Before Celtic play at Motherwell tomorrow night he will watch on television as the Netherlands discover which group they will be in at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil. He is connected to the Dutch squad, but tentatively. When coach Louis van Gaal selected his most recent group of players, it was believed there was one vacant place for another defender and it was the 21-year-old Ajax defender, Joel Veltman, who slipped in rather than van Dijk. The two men have been rivals in Champions League Group H, of course, but while Veltman is now assured of European football after Christmas van Dijk will have none.

Frankly it is difficult to envisage van Gaal being sufficiently impressed by anything van Dijk may do in Scotland over the coming months to bother to come and watch him, let alone select him for Brazil. He did not pick him while the 22-year-old performed well in Celtic's opening four group games against AC Milan away, Barcelona at home, and the double-header against Ajax (van Dijk had an uncharacteristically unimpressive night when the Italians won 3-0 at Parkhead in matchday five).

Celtic do have one European fixture remaining, of course, and perhaps what happens in Camp Nou next Wednesday will catch van Gaal's eye. Injuries or lost form among the other Dutch defenders could also offer an opening. the Netherlands' next fixture will be on March 5, the date set aside by Fifa for friendlies.

"People are noticing what I am doing, especially in the Champions League games," said van Dijk yesterday. "They watch them, but now I have to show it every single week with us being out of the Champions League. I just have to keep working hard.

"Every player who is playing in a foreign country hopes the national team coach will keep watching you. The fact I'm playing in Scotland is not a concern for me. Fraser Forster playing for England definitely inspires me. I look at myself and I want to do what he has done. The manager [Neil Lennon] tells me that I have it within me, but I've got to show it.

"Before the game on Friday I'll watch the World Cup draw. I'm actually hoping for a very strong group because it is always good to see your nation involved in matches against the best teams."

Van Dijk's smooth assimilation into Scottish football meant he has emerged as by far the most impressive of Celtic's summer signings. Yesterday he praised the role of Mikael Lustig during his early months in Scotland, which was a little ironic given that Lustig himself had an unimpressive start at Celtic before growing to become a senior figure in the team.

"Mikael is very, very good. He's a complete defender," said the dutchman. "He's tall, he can head the ball, he's quick and he crosses very well. I think he could be one of Celtic's leaders in the future, especially with the experience that he has to help a young team.

"Not only is he a good footballer, he's a good guy. He's helped me a lot and his wife has been a help to my girlfriend, too. I socialise with him. We talk a lot."

Inevitably he was one of the first to congratulate Lustig for the startling long-rang shot which flew into the Hearts net on Sunday, one of Celtic's seven unanswered goals at Tynecastle. Was it the best performance in which van Dijk had ever played? "Yes, I'd say so. Big scorelines do not mean the football [in Scotland] is bad, not at all. Coming here has made me a better player. I knew coming here was a good option. It was up to me to show that to people."

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