THERE aren’t many people out there, given the economic disparities now prevalent in European football, who give Scottish teams an earthly when it comes to competing in the group stages of the Champions League these days. And just last season, the fears of those doom-mongers were vindicated.

Rangers ended their own Champions League group campaign by claiming the ignominious title of the worst team ever to compete – to stretch the meaning of the word – at that level, and while Celtic’s performances were undoubtedly better, their points return wasn’t markedly so.

Two defeats apiece to Real Madrid and RB Leipzig were mildly offset by two draws against Shakhtar Donetsk and the cold comfort of knowing they had at least proven themselves a competitive proposition in varying spells of all six group stage matches.

It is those consolatory aspects of Celtic’s Champions League campaign that Matt O’Riley is clinging to as he looks forward to another crack at the continent’s elite this season. There is a new manager in place, of course, as well as a host of new players, but the experiences the core of the team took from those games can, in his view, be priceless.

Just as important though is that the Celtic players go into the games ahead truly believing that they not only belong there, but that they can actually qualify from the group and reach the last 16 of the tournament, something no Scottish side has managed since Celtic did so back in season 2012/13.

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“Of course I [believe we can go far in the tournament], it’s football isn’t it?” O’Riley said. 

“We have seen things in the past where teams not expected to win things do win them.  “Leicester won the Premier League and I think should go into the Champions League believing we can win every game. Not necessarily expecting to, but we have to give ourselves the best chance of doing well.

“For me personally, being in Scotland for a year, I’m now in a better place than I was then. Experience can only help whether it is good experience or bad experience. 

“Going into the next season and the next crack at the Champions League I think you are more prepared and more ready mentally because you know the level and should back yourself to really go for it. 

“I just hope all of us in the team really believe we can actually do something this year because I think it’s possible.”

There will be scoffs and scorn poured on O’Riley’s optimistic view of Celtic’s chances no doubt, and the midfielder himself is cognisant of the fact that while his club enjoy a huge financial advantage on the domestic front, the boot is very much on the other foot when it comes to taking on the mega clubs of the continent.

He is adamant though that Celtic will not be fazed by what lies ahead, no matter who emerges from those little starry balls and into their section come the draw in Monaco on August 31st.

“Of course, I understand that argument from a fans’ perspective and an outside perspective,” he said. “But I just look at it from a human perspective. 

“I look at a player on the other team and, fair enough, they might be in a Real Madrid kit or a Barcelona kit, but they are still a human being like I am and the rest of my team are and if we play well today we can definitely win a football match. 

“We might not be favourites in every game, but it’s still possible. Scottish football gets a bit overlooked and the Champions League is the platform to really show that the teams in this league can play good football and really compete. 

“Going into this year I would like to put a marker down and say, ‘okay we are actually here for a reason…’ 

"I don't really mind [who we draw]. We had Real Madrid last year, so I've ticked that box. There are enough good teams to have some fun regardless. I'd take anyone. I want to try and get through the group, no matter who we get.

"We have to go out there to win. I don't think we should look at the teams and be like: 'these are big dogs'. We should go in thinking that we are in a group of four teams and let's try and get through."

Former Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou made much of the theory that his players would only learn to be better on such a stage by trying to play their normal game there, which under his guidance was a front-foot attacking style that many argued to be verging on the kamikaze in such an arena.

Brendan Rodgers can lay claim to a degree of tactical flexibility that his predecessor did not possess, though he was hardly renowned for a pragmatic approach to European football during his first spell at Celtic Park either.

How though will the Celtic players look to use the lessons of last season’s Champions League campaign during the forthcoming one, when there is a different manager at the helm?

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"There are different styles but last season we still created enough chances to win games,” O’Riley said.

“If we'd been a bit more ruthless, we definitely could have finished in a higher position.

"Different managers will have different ways of setting their teams up and hopefully that will give us more success than last year. Whatever he decides to do, I think will put us in a good position."

Before the glamour of the draw in Monaco lie challenges in more modest surroundings - but of no less importance - starting with the first step in Celtic’s defence of their Viaplay Cup, and by extension, their Treble.

That will take them to Rugby Park on Sunday to take on a Kilmarnock side buoyed by a more than decent start to their Premiership campaign, defeating Rangers on their own plastic patch before earning a goalless draw at Tynecastle against Hearts.

The prospect of a trip to such a reputationally difficult venue might be enough to put a shiver up the spine of any Old Firm player, but Celtic have actually made a mockery of that perception in recent times, hitting nine goals and conceding just one in their two visits to Ayrshire last season.

O’Riley though says that the Celtic players will be giving the fixture their full respect.

“It’ll be a difficult challenge,” he said.

“They have started the season very well. It’s no excuse, but their pitch is artificial and that can make it hard to play fluid football. But in saying that, I think we have the quality to break them down.

“I’m also used to those kind of pitches, so that’s fine. I just mean from the sake of playing really fast flowing football, the games can be a little bit slower because the ball doesn’t move as quickly. Unless it’s pouring down with rain, which is probably will be in Scotland!

“So that will probably help if that’s the case. If not, we just need to be ready to move the ball as quickly as we can.

“We took our chances there last season. We scored quite early in the games we had there which always helps. I think we scored two or three goals within the first half hour.

“Naturally that is going to help change their game plan so from their perspective they’ll be looking to limit the chances we can create.”