IT was, by Dorus de Vries’s own admission, not so much a game of football when the Dutch goalkeeper made his European debut for Celtic against Barcelona last season as shooting practice for the Catalan club’s fabled forward line.
Brendan Rodgers’s side ended up on the receiving end of a humiliating 7-0 hammering by their star-studded hosts in their opening Champions League group game in the Nou Camp.
Lionel Messi grabbed a hat-trick, Luis Suarez bagged a brace and Neymar also got his name on the scoresheet as the Scottish champions slumped to their record defeat in Europe.
It was a harrowing evening for De Vries, the former Swansea City, Wolves and Nottingham Forest keeper who was making his debut in continental competition, and one that he hasn’t, until now, had a chance to atone for.
The Dutchman picked up a chest injury in the first half of a Ladbrokes Premiership game against Kilmarnock the following week, lost his place in the Celtic team to Craig Gordon and didn’t feature again all season as a result of his club mate’s excellent form.
But the 37-year-old has come restored to the starting line-up as the result of the serious knee injury Gordon suffered against Hibernian last month and is set to start in the Europa League match with Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday evening.
The meeting with Zenit will not be a great deal easier than his debut against Barcelona as their manager Roberto Mancini can field Alexander Kokorin, Dmitry Poloz and Emiliano Rigoni, among several others, in his front three.
The Russians defeated La Liga club Real Soceidad home and away as they topped their Europa League group and harbour hopes of repeating their 2008 UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup triumphs.
However, De Vries, who helped Celtic bounce back from the defeat they suffered to Kilmarnock at the weekend with a William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round triumph over Partick Thistle at home, is confident he will be well prepared for it after his previous European outing.
“Barcelona are exceptional and they were exceptional on the night,” said De Vries. “Everything went for them. It seemed like shooting practice at times. But that is part of being a team, it is part of being a goalie.
“You learn from it, you go on and you make sure that you keep on going mentally and prepare yourself for the next game and keep going. It is just part of it.
“Of course, you are always looking to rectify certain stuff and be better in the next game. You learn from every opponent in every game whether you win, lose or draw. You always try to take the positives, look at the negatives, and see what you can learn.
“That counts for Barcelona or Partick Thistle. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change. You want to per-form and you want to win, if you don’t win, don’t lose. And if you lose, you see what to learn.”
De Vries’s lack of involvement in Europe both last season and this has been a source of frustration to the player as the chance to play in the Champions League and Europa League was, along with the opportunity to work under Rodgers once again, one of the main reasons that he chose to join Celtic.
The experienced defender grew exasperated sitting on the bench last season as the Glasgow club won a domestic treble and revealed that he was prevented from leaving when a Premier League club down south came in for him during the summer.
He has, though, still enjoyed being in the crowd at Parkhead for games against the likes of Anderlecht, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City and is looking forward to sampling the atmosphere as a player.
“The biggest difference to playing here to playing in the Championship and with the lower teams in the Premier League,” he said. “European football and some big games are here. In saying that, every game we play here is big because in every single game people are expecting you to win it.
“The whole experience since I have arrived here, European nights are special. I have to say every game at here is special and I mean that. Our home support is magnificent. But the big games and the atmosphere is incredible. I’ve had family and friends here who have said the same thing.
“They even enjoy the competition days as much as the European nights, they say it is always something to look forward to.
“The moment you step onto the pitch at Parkhead, it’s class. It breathes football, it breathes history. It was like that down south at Nottingham Forest. They have a special history at their ground also, same as Celtic Park.”