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Boyata targets more big Euro nights with Hoops

By Ronnie Esplin

Dedryck Boyata hopes to strut his stuff for Celtic in Europe again after missing the Hoops' Champions League campaign this season.

The 26-year-old Belgium defender played in the unsuccessful Champions League qualifiers in 2015-16 under former boss Ronny Deila, also featuring in the subsequent Europa League campaign.

A muscle tear kept him out of the European Championships in France and he fell out of the Celtic picture following the arrival of manager Brendan Rodgers, playing only one game in the first half of the season when the Scottish champions beat Kilmarnock 1-0 at Rugby Park in November.

Boyata could only watch as the runaway Ladbrokes Premiership leaders fought their way into the group stages of European club football's elite competition.

There, they drew twice with his former club Manchester City and once with Borussia Monchengladbach, finishing bottom of a tough section won by Barcelona.

Ahead of the visit of Motherwell today, Boyata, an ever-present since the winter break, recalled the European nights earlier in the campaign and expressed his desire to get a taste next season.

He said: "It was difficult for the team but they got some results against some great teams.

"Personally it was very hard as I would like to have had a part.

"We can only move forward. As we have been improving this season, we want to be able to show the same in Europe against big teams. It will be hard but if we manage to show the qualities we have been showing, then it will be a great step up for us.

"The Champions League is a tournament every club wants to play in. I can only look forward to this. It will be a big achievement and the opportunity to show what we can do against teams who have been at that level."

The rejuvenated Belgian has helped the Hoops stretch their unbeaten domestic run since the start of the season to 30 games and their lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership to 27 points, while also securing a place in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals.

He said: "We need to take it step by step. If we start thinking too far then I don't think it will be positive."

Meanwhile, Celtic's January signing Eboue Kouassi made his first appearance yesterday in a Youth Cup quarter-final tie against Hibernian.

The 19-year-old Ivorian, signed from FC Krasnodar for a reported £2.8m, played for an hour in the 1-0 victory.

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