DORUS de Vries believes Celtic can take inspiration from Dutch giants Ajax as they prepare to launch their Europa League campaign against Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday night.

Brendan Rodgers’s side face a difficult task getting past their big-spending Russian rivals in the last 32 double header in the next fortnight.

But the goalkeeper remembers how Ajax in his native Netherlands surprised European football by beating opponents from major footballing nations and going all the way to the final last season.

Peter Bosz’s team defeated Legia Warsaw, Copenhagen, Schalke 04 and Lyon en route to the final in Stockholm before losing to Manchester United 2-0.

De Vries stressed that is will be difficult for the Scottish champions to progress in a tournament that contains the likes of AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio as well as Zenit.

But the 37-year-old admitted that his countrymen’s stunning run to the Friends Arena in the 2016//17 campaign shows that clubs from outwith England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain can still defy the odds.

“I’m really delighted that we’ve been in the Champions’ League group stages since I’ve been at Celtic,” he said. “It’s been a great financial injection for the club and it’s a platform for the players and the management to grow.

“It’s a great learning experience for us. We have a young squad with a lot of potential and whether we win, lose or draw in the Champions League we learn each time.

“We are competing against men, clever football players with pace and power and it’s going to be the same in the knock-out rounds of the Europa League. We deserve to be there. It’s the next step.”

De Vries added: “But if you look across Europe you can see that the really big financial powerhouses are running football now. There is a dominance by these clubs who have huge financial backing. What can you do against that sort of money?

“The financial powerhouses are running away with it. But our aim was European football after the winter and we have achieved it. Now we need to try and keep on going.

“Ajax are a good example of what is possible. You never know what will happen in football. Fingers crossed. We are a young with a lot of potential, but a lot of the young guys here play like men and there is only room to grow and get better. Playing in Europe will help these guys reach their true potential.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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