Jason Denayer hopes the most precious moment of his career so far will prove to be a launchpad that permits him to escape the substitutes'

bench for his native Belgium and go on to become an established member of their new, golden generation.

The Celtic defender has made rapid progress since arriving on loan from Manchester City at the beginning of the season and suspects his performance in the 2-0 League Cup semi-final victory over Rangers last Sunday may be enough to convince his national team manager, Marc Wilmots, that he has developed the maturity required in Glasgow to finally merit a first full cap.

Denayer's performances for the SPFL Premiership champions have earned call-ups for the Red Devils' last three European Championship qualifying matches against Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Wales, but the 19-year-old has yet to make it onto the park beside the likes of Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard.

He is a young man growing in confidence and ambition, though, and feels his calm and assured display in the heated atmosphere of a first Old Firm derby in three years has proved an important point to those who matter in his homeland.

"I knew if I played well in a match like that, I might get my chance," said the 19-year-old. "The national team is not the most important thing to me because I just need to concentrate on playing well for Celtic, but I hope I have been noticed.

"I imagined it would be a good atmosphere, but Sunday was just amazing. It was very different to what I have experienced before. My family were here and lots of my friends watched the game back home in Belgium. It was my best moment. I have never played in a game like this."

Denayer concedes he endured a largely sleepless night before taking the field at Hampden Park and hopes that is the first of many big matches to come with Celtic facing Internazionale in the Europa League and already booked in for the League Cup final with Dundee United. Belgium also have the small matter of a must-win double-header against Cyprus and Israel next month.

"It was difficult to sleep last Saturday night because I was desperate to play in the Old Firm game," he recalled. "Everybody had been speaking about it. I don't think I was nervous, but it was a feeling of excitement."

The match brought Celtic's sixth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions with Rangers failing to manage a single shot on target.

Denayer and his defensive partner, Virgil van Dijk, strolled through the 90 minutes, but he insists the ease of that victory must not be allowed to disguise the hard work that has gone behind the scenes in recent weeks to make the back line so impregnable.

"We have improved defensively and we are also playing better," he said. "In training, we now work on that side of things more than before.

"Coming here has been a good move for me because I have gained a lot of experience at Celtic. I have played a lot of games that I wouldn't have played if I stayed at City, so I am very pleased I came up to Scotland."

Denayer places much of the credit for his success at the door of van Dijk. His partnership with the Dutchman appears to be growing stronger by the week and he believes he can only improve as they enter the business end of the season shoulder-to-shoulder.

"We play well together and he is a very good player," said Denayer. "It is good to be playing alongside him. I am also learning from him as well.

"He has more experience than me and he knows what to say to me. I listen to him because I know he can help make me a better player."

Van Dijk has already made his intentions clear after failing to secure a move away from Glasgow during the January transfer window.

"The next few months will be big and I want to win a treble," he stated. "We can still improve and we know that. I need to improve as well, but we still have plenty of time on our side."

Van Dijk has also played down talk of any tensions with the Celtic manager, Ronny Deila, as a result of the Norwegian proving so determined to keep him at the club during the last two windows.

The former Groningen centre-back is focused on continuing to compete for silverware on four fronts and satisfying the demands of his Glasgow fanbase.

"It's an amazing club, an amazing team and I love the fans," he said. "I think we have done a great job and I'm still happy at Celtic."