Celtic's Dorus de Vries enjoying his second taste of Europe
The back-up looked like he would pass into history as the man whose one appearance in continental competition for the club came in the September 2016 7-0 drubbing away to Barcelona that brought the club their heaviest European defeat.
Now the veteran Dutchman, whose chance has come through injury to first-pick Craig Gordon, could be part of making history for all the right reasons. The 1-0 victory over the Russians in the first leg of the clubs’ last 32 Europa League tie wasn’t just the club’s first home clean sheet outside of qualifiers in cross-border competition in almost three-and-a-half years.
It has raised the – still slender –possibility that in Thursday’s St Petersburg return Celtic could progress in the knockout stages of a European tournament for the first time since they ousted Barcelona from the Uefa Cup in 2004. No wonder, then, that for de Vries the events inside Parkhead the other night meant “a lot, a lot because the atmosphere is amazing, especially on European nights”.
He said: “From the first minute on with the crowd behind us like that, it gives us a great boost and a great lift to have the supporters really behind you. It pushes everyone’s level up, simple as. I’m 37 years of age, but I still enjoy it like a little kid. Once you walk out on to the pitch and see the full stadium, everybody singing, what more can you ask for as a football player?
“These are the stages you want to be involved in and these are the games you want to be involved in, and especially with the players in front of me because it’s a joy to play with them. With this crowd as well, what do I have to complain about?”
Because he was always previously “sitting on the bench”, he said, of course he wondered if he would ever have the opportunity to sample this occasion from the pitch.
“It might be that your chance has been, and that’s it,” he said. “But I’m the type of guy that wants to stay as professional as I’ve ever been, and especially as you get older, you try to maintain your body and your physical shape as best as you can. I’m really fortunate with my discipline as well in that case, trying to stay on top of my game, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The Dutchman laughed over the fact that he hardly got his gloves dirty as Brendan Rodgers and his men produced an exceptionally deft and disciplined display in effectively switching between a 4-4-1-1, 3-6-1 and 3-5-2 to dominate utterly against their opponents, Roberto Mancini’s men betraying all the rustiness that was perhaps inevitable after a long winter lay-off had left them without a competitive game in two months.
The keeper is cautious as to Celtic’s prospects for making the last 16, with Zenit sure to be sharper in the return, with his focus first on this afternoon’s league hosting of St Johnstone. “We must stay focused and mature in our performance, and don’t get carried away at all, because we still have to make sure we are on top of our levels to perform well,” said De Vries, brought on board by Rodgers in August 2016. “That’s what we’ve shown domestically in the period that I have been here. That’s going to count in the second leg.
“It’s in Europe and it is two legs. Tournament football is a different type of football, it’s cup football. It’s really important to do well in the first leg to set yourself up for the second leg so that you still have a chance. I still think that Zenit are a really good and strong side. The first leg was a great performance from everyone involved, especially in our tactics, which were spot on.
“The tactical side from the gaffer went really well, and he will make sure we are set up properly for the second leg.”