08 Dec Celtic belong in the Champions League
Erik Sviatchenko feels Celtic have shown they belong in the Champions League – now the defender wants to make sure they stay there for years to come.
Celtic’s European campaign ended with a second draw against Manchester City on Tuesday, but they might have extended their run beyond Christmas if Callum McGregor had converted a good late chance for a winner in Monchengladbach.
The Scottish champions secured three points after recovering from a 7-0 thrashing by Barcelona in their opening game and Sviatchenko described their campaign as “a good progression from the first game to the last”.
And, with manager Brendan Rodgers insisting this week that he was at Parkhead for the long haul, Sviatchenko is eager to build on the club’s first Champions League group campaign in three seasons.
“For some of us it was the first time ever and I think we dealt with it really well,” the 25-year-old said.
“It was a learning period. Even though we want to achieve more, I think we showed we came a long way in a short period.
“To be unbeaten by Man City over two games, the second Barca game was really good, and the Gladbach game could have gone a bit better, and it might be a different situation. But all in all we can be satisfied with our first Champions League campaign.
“It’s about taking the opportunities when they are there. We have shown we are able to be in this tournament but it’s about the small margins and we didn’t have them all the time.
“I think the group of players are really, really good and they have all showed they are capable of being in the Champions League. So that’s the first step.
“And it’s a group of players that need to develop together, and with the manager being here and working so well with us, that means that for the next season it will probably be even better. We will have been together for eight months more.”
The former Midtjylland player feels he made significant personal progress over the six games, especially by facing Barcelona stars Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
“These are the games you really want to be part of and really want to be measured on, some of the greatest players there are,” he said.
“To be up against ‘MSN’, arguably the best trio in the world, that is something you can put in your backpack and develop on in the future.”
When asked what he had learned the most, Sviatchenko said: “I think it’s the composure, and the joy as well, because you also need to enjoy these moments.
“If you are walking to the game and feeling you are under pressure then it will be a difficult game.
“But if you are out there and you believe in yourself and you want the ball, I think we showed that in a lot of the games, that we can be competitive at this level.
“We showed we belong in this tournament.”
Celtic continue their attempts to ensure they are in next summer’s qualifiers when they face Partick Thistle at Firhill on Friday night.
The Ladbrokes Premiership leaders maintained their unbeaten domestic record in Sviatchenko’s absence last weekend despite going 2-0 and then 3-2 down against Motherwell and the ill Dane went through the range of emotions before Tom Rogic hit a last-minute winner.
“It was a bit tough,” he said. “I was up and down, up and down with my tea. It was perfect, it was just great that we could bounce back.
“Some games we have won with big figures, some games have been really tight, this was the first game where we were really, really challenged, being two goals down. We have shown we are capable of different mental styles.”