As is always the case in an international break, numerous Celtic players get the call to represent their respective nations and this March was no different with a total of ten either being in the squads of or making appearances for their countries.
Across the world, several Bhoys took to the field where they experienced the joys of World Cup qualification, the lows of being pipped at the post to Qatar and the lustreless of international friendlies.
This article will only cover players who played at senior and under 21 level so people like Tobi Oluwayemi and Johnny Kenny, for example, who represented the under 19’s of England and Ireland respectively, won’t be looked at.
Reo Hatate – Japan
Hajime Moriyasu initially included two Celtic players in his Japan squad for the March internationals however only one of those ended up travelling to the Far East.
Daizen Maeda elected to stay in Glasgow in order to work on fitness and conditioning ahead of a crucial run-in with Celtic whereas his teammate Reo Hatate travelled to Japan as they made sure of their place in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, a 2-0 win in Sydney against Australia confirming this.
The Japanese may only have played forty five minutes in the 1-1 draw however to make his first appearance for his country must’ve been a huge honour for the twenty four year old.
He was tremendous in the last Glasgow Derby and it will be intriguing to see if Hatate gets the nod in the upcoming one with the wide range of options Ange Postecoglou has at his disposal in midfield.
Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor – Scotland
Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor have been involved in the overwhelming majority of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squads and that was no different despite the nation’s two matches in March having no competitive significance.
The duo started in Scotland’s friendly with Poland, helping their nation to a 1-1 draw. McGregor played in midfield alongside Chelsea loan starlet Billy Gilmour with Greg Taylor filling in at left wing back for the covid-struck Andy Robertson. McGregor and Taylor each played a significant part in the game with both being subbed off in the second half prior to Poland’s late equaliser from the spot.
After this draw, Scotland travelled to Vienna to take on an Austria side who had just had their hopes of reaching the 2022 World Cup crushed by Scotland’s potential play-off final opponents, Wales.
Steve Clarke made four changes from the Poland match, two of which saw Greg Taylor and Callum McGregor drop out for the returning Andy Robertson and Aberdeen man Lewis Ferguson. Despite Scotland taking a 2-0 lead, the match finished a 2-2 draw without Taylor or the Celtic captain taking to the field, a blessing in disguise for Celtic as the pair got to recharge their batteries ahead of Sunday’s match in which they will both likely start.
Carl Starfelt – Sweden
Celtic centre back Carl Starfelt was called up to the Swedish national team for one of their most significant rounds of fixtures since the European Championships of last summer. The Swedes though, did not end up qualifying for the 2022 Qatar World Cup with Starfelt spending both the play-off semi-final and final on the bench.
The twenty six year old will now have to pick himself up from the low of being part of a Sweden squad which failed to qualify for their third World Cup in the last four as he will undoubtedly be partnering Cameron Carter-Vickers at the heart of the Celtic defence on Sunday at noon.
Nir Bitton – Israel
He has been a tremendous servant to Celtic in the past nine or so years and the same can be said about Nir Bitton for the Israeli national team.
Bitton made his thirty-ninth cap for his country in March as he played at centre back in Hoffenheim’s PreZero Arena against Germany as Israel fell to a 2-0 friendly defeat. The thirty year old could do nothing to prevent a top-class German side from opening up the Israeli defence with goals from Kai Havertz and Timo Werner sealing a thorough victory for Hansi Flick’s men.
It was widely anticipated Bitton would then play against Romania a few days later however a report came about from Walla Sport saying the former FC Ashdod man would return to Glasgow early in order to prepare for Celtic’s crucial Glasgow Derby.
This report came to fruition as Bitton wasn’t in the squad for his nation’s 2-2 friendly draw and it appears the thirty year old prioritised club over country on this occasion due to the insignificance of Israel’s match which he missed.
Josip Juranovic – Croatia
After playing an appreciable part in Croatia’s qualification to the 2022 World Cup in the last international break, Josip Juranovic was selected to represent his country once more for their two friendlies against Slovenia and Bulgaria this March.
Juranovic played the full game in Qatar against Slovenia on the right side of a midfield five in a 3-5-2 set up. Croatia would take the lead a few minutes from half time but in stoppage time of the second period, Andrej Kramaric’s goal was cancelled out by CSKA Moscow man Jaka Bijol as Slovenia earned themselves a draw.
Croatia then lined up against Bulgaria three days later however this time, Juranovic was demoted to the bench. His fellow substitutes Luka Modric and Andrej Kramaric managed to make the difference as the duo grabbed the goals to help secure a 2-1 win.
Due to being rested in his country’s second and final game of the international break, Josip Juranovic will be primed and ready to start at Ibrox on Sunday. The last time Celtic played there, the Croatian played at left back but he will surely be operating on the opposite side of defence this time around.
Giorgos Giakoumakis – Greece
As a result of his recent Celtic displays in which he scored 8 goals in 4 games, Giorgos Giakoumakis was awarded with a call-up to Gus Poyet’s maiden Greece squad.
Giakoumakis led the line in the Uruguayan’s first game in charge, playing 71 minutes. The striker had the ball in the back of the net midway through the first half but seen his one touch, back heeled effort ruled out for offside.
These antics though, didn’t help Giakoumakis force his way into the Greece lineup for their second friendly of the international break. Instead, the twenty seven year old had to settle for a place on the bench against Montenegro.
He came on for the last half hour against the nation who are ranked 72nd in the Fifa World Rankings but couldn’t help contribute to a goal which would’ve seen Greece get back into the game. Instead, Gus Poyet’s second match in charge of the Greek national team ended in a 1-0 defeat, the complete opposite to the first which was a single-goal victory over Romania.
Luckily for Celtic, their on-form striker came through the latest international break unscathed and Giorgos Giakoumakis will now be odds-on to start at Ibrox on Sunday despite Kyogo Furuhashi’s impending return.
Matt O’Riley – Denmark u21s
He joined Celtic as an Englishman but prior to the most recent international break, Matt O’Riley switched allegiances to the nation of his Mother’s origin. As a result, he was called up to the Denmark under 21 squad by Jesper Sørensen for their crucial European Championship qualifier with Belgium’s under 21’s.
The Danes drew 1-1 with O’Riley coming on as a substitute for the final twenty or so minutes and despite a late onslaught of the Belgium goal, Denmark couldn’t find a winner.
Funnily enough, this qualifying section is one Stephen Welsh’s Scotland’s under 21’s are a part of however it is Belgium and Denmark who lead the way in group I with the former nine points ahead of the latter yet the Danes still have two extra games to play.
Stephen Welsh – Scotland u21s
He’s started just twice for Celtic in this calendar year although that didn’t mean Stephen Welsh was kept out of the Scotland under 21 set up for their matches with Turkey and Kazakhstan. In fact, Welsh was heavily involved in both games, captaining Scotland’s under 21’s from centre back twice.
At Tynecastle against Turkey, it is fair to say Scotland were beaten by the better side and Stephen Welsh could do nothing to prevent a Kartal Yilmaz effort from deflecting off him and into the back of the net. This goal made it 2-0 to the visitors as they walked away with a crucial three points in Euros qualification group I.
Scot Gemmill’s side then faced an arduous trip to Kazakhstan after their defeat to Turkey. Welsh would start in this match and help set up the first goal when he assisted Dundee United prospect Ross Graham in the box after a Calvin Ramsay corner however just after half time, the twenty two year old had to be withdrawn through injury prior to first, the goal that doubled Scotland’s lead and second, Kazakhstan’s fight back which saw them earn a 2-2 draw.
The extent to which the injury will affect Welsh is currently unknown however it was unlikely he would start in any upcoming matches unless there were problems with the fitness of Cameron Carter-Vickers or Carl Starfelt. Nonetheless, the Scot is an adequate option in the centre of defence for Celtic who even had transfer interest from Serie A in January.
Liel Abada – Israel u21s
It was rather surprising to see Liel Abada named in Israel’s under 21 squad for the recent international break after being a regular fixture in the nation’s senior squad of late however when you consider the fact this age group had the chance to reach the Euros for just the third time in thirty-two years, it doesn’t seem such a peculiar decision after all.
And that decision turned out be a just one as Abada scored one of Israel’s two goals of the international break to fire them a play off for the under 21 Euros.
He levelled the scoring against Poland with a thunderous finish from the corner of the box into the top right corner as Israel earned a 2-2 draw which, in reflection, turned out to be a result that was crucial to their progression.
Five days later, Israel faced the might of Germany’s under 21’s who possessed the likes of FC Koln’s Jan Thielmann and dynamic Frankfurt winger Ansgar Knauff in their ranks. The favourites ran out 1-0 winners however Poland’s 1-1 draw with Hungary meant Israel had made sure of a play off spot in spite of their loss.
Liel Abada hasn’t started for Celtic since the 2nd of March and playing ninety minutes twice with his country’s under 21’s may not do the twenty year old any favours in his bid to do so this weekend.
That caps off my review of how Celtic players got on on international duty.
Fortunately, there was only one injury and that was to fringe player Stephen Welsh. As a result, Celtic will be able to go into Sunday’s Glasgow derby with almost a full strength team.
For the match, Ange Postecoglou faces a plethora of tough decisions and they are ones I for one, certainly wouldn’t want to be making.