SCOTLAND might not have been represented in the group stages of the Champions League this season never mind the knockout rounds after Celtic came up short in qualifying last summer.

Yet, Callum McGregor, inset, believes the reputation of the game in this country has been greatly enhanced by the performances of players such as Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Victor Wanyama, who all plied their trade here before moving down to England, in the latter stages of Europe’s elite club competition.

Robertson and Van Dijk played for Liverpool in their astonishing semi-final comeback against Barcelona at Anfield on Tuesday night while Wanyama started for Spurs in their equally exhilarating last four victory over Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena the following evening.

“It just shows you there is quality in Scotland,” said McGregor. “The perception of the game here is maybe not great, but it has been a good education for these guys. They are now playing in semi-finals and finals of the Champions League.

“We know how hard it is to play in this league and win trophies and cups. You need to be at it every single week. These guys, especially Virgil and Victor, did it. They won trophies and titles and then went and tested themselves down the road. These guys know how difficult it is.”

Still, the progress that Van Dijk has made since joining Southampton in a £13m transfer four years ago has surprised many in the game in England and further afield. But McGregor, who played alongside the Dutch centre half when he first broke into the Celtic side, was always convinced his team mate would flourish.

“When he left the boys knew he would do well,” he said. “It is always difficult when you come from Scotland to make that jump (to a top club) straight away due to the perception of the football here is such. Players have to take that middle step to prove they can play in the Premier League.

“But within a season or two Virgil has become the best defender in the world. Nobody can doubt that fact. He has been outstanding in every game I have seen them play. You can see why Liverpool are challenging for Champions Leagues and Premier Leagues. He has made such a big difference. Everyone down the road is speaking about that.”

As he looked ahead to the Ladbrokes Premiership match with Rangers at Ibrox on Sunday yesterday, McGregor admitted that watching Van Dijk in action had given him belief that he can one day feature at that rarefied level himself. “It is good to know he has been in a dressing room with you and you have played on the same pitch,” he said. “Anything can happen in football.”

The 25-year-old, like football fans across the world, watched transfixed as both Liverpool and Spurs came back from being 3-0 down in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties to book places in the final in Madrid next month.

He confessed the incredible scenes in both Liverpool and Amsterdam have made him even more determined to ensure Celtic, who were crowned Scottish champions for the eighth season running last weekend, get back into the tournament again next season.

“It was incredible wasn’t it?” he said. “They were both unbelievable games of football. The comebacks in both games show you that anything is possible in football. Both teams looked down and out, but they have the mentality to keep going.

“I think when you see nights like that it shows you what the Champions League is all about. It is the highest level. With the emotion attached to the games and everything that goes with them it is the pinnacle of football. Watching them, you are desperate to be in it and be playing there. For us next season we want to do everything we can to get there.”

McGregor also feels the performances of Ajax, who defeated defending champions Real Madrid and Juventus before being edged out by Spurs in the sixth minute of injury time, in recent months show what Celtic can achieve in future despite not having the same finances as their rivals in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

“When you look at them they are similar in stature and have a lot of young home-grown players,” he said. “They haven’t bought their side. They trust in the way they play, in their football philosophy.

“Watching it does inspire us in that changing room. It can inspire a lot of teams in similar circumstances. It shows if you have the right attitude with the right quality and the right guidance then anything can happen.

“We look at that and think ‘why can’t we get into the group stage in consecutive seasons and get past the group stage in the next couple of years?’ I think that is something the club will want to do.”

Ajax successfully negotiated three qualifying rounds to get into the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in five years at the start of the season. For McGregor, who has played in the competition proper twice, that shows that Celtic can bounce back from the disappointment they suffered in the summer next term.

“You need bits of luck and things like that,” he said. “In the two seasons that we qualified for the Champions League we rode our luck a little bit in games.

“Then I think back to the Athens games. We were probably the better team over the two games and got knocked out because they took their chances. It just shows you that you need a wee bit of luck as well. Knockout football is so unpredictable. Momentum has a big role to play in football as well.”

McGregor confessed that he would be willing Liverpool to triumph in the final due to the presence of both Robertson, who he plays alongside with Scotland, and Van Dijk, his former Celtic team mate. “When you know players in a team you want them to do well,” he said. “But I just want to see a good game.”