ANTHONY RALSTON'S season saw the Celtic kid get niggly with Neymar and sign a bumper new deal, before he suffered a knee injury and ended the season at Dundee United. Now he's ready to go full circle by facing off against England in the Toulon Tournament semi-final…almost a year to the day from the same showdown last year.
Scotland's Under 21s impressively topped their Group containing hosts France to qualify for their second semi-finals in a row at the prestigious youth tournament with a narrow win against the South Koreans at Fos-Sur-Mer.
A fine strike after just 84 seconds from Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour – who became the youngest ever scorer for Scotland's Under 21s – and a quite brilliant individual strike from captain Oliver Burke, who galloped 70 yards before finishing with aplomb, sent the Scots through, after they had earlier drawn with Togo and defeated France.
A year ago, Ralston was lining up in the Stade Parsemain facing England in the semi-finals, which the Auld Enemy won 3-0.
But that was to kick start a roller-coaster year for Ralston, who went toe-to-toe with Brazilian PSG superstar Neymar which saw the 19-year-old laugh in his face. However, the ex-Barcelona genius had the last laugh in a 5-0 Parkhead win.
Ralston then signed a bumper four-and-a-half year deal in December, had to undergo surgery with a knee operation before ending the season on loan at Dundee United. And he insists he's loved the ups and downs of the season, after acknowledging his tussle with Neymar.
He said: "It’s crazy to think of the things that have happened since that England game. It’s been quite mental, but unreal at the same time. I feel I’ve grown as a player over the past year since I was here. In a way it all started with playing in this tournament.
"It’s been ups and downs. From the start of the season playing, living the dream as a Celtic fan playing for the first team. Then my injury and dealing with that then going out on loan and enjoying the games I played in.
"Celtic have been unreal this season. It’s a very special team and the achievements they’ve made over the past two seasons. I'm immensely proud to have been a part of that as well.
"But I enjoyed my time at Dundee United and they were very good with me. Getting the experience of dealing with an injury – a serious one – and having an operation was all new.
"It’s about how you deal with the downside and enjoying the ups. It’s been a good season overall and one to remember.
"I always look back on the Champions League night against PSG as a positive night on a personal note. It’s all about experiences and playing against that calibre of player is only going to give me the confidence to go up against any player.
"Obviously, Neymar is a very talented footballer and one of the best in the world. I still take great confidence from that night going into every game.
"Having it in the back of my head knowing I experienced that. I look back on it as a good memory even though on the night things didn’t go great score wise. But I enjoyed the challenge of that at Celtic Park, it’s the thing I grew up as a kid dreaming of doing. There were 60,000 there on a Champions League night and I’m honoured to say I’ve done it.
"It’ll stick with me forever. I wouldn’t change any of it."
And Ralston is determined to go one better than last year when Scotland face England in Aubangne, after they had earlier beaten Brazil last year and believes the young Scots can take plenty of confidence from defeating France 1-0 last week.
Ralston said: "We’re all lifted by reaching the semi-finals. It’s nice to have time after a win like that when you can enjoy it. The camp’s good. There is a good confidence about the place and it’s been lifted now.
"Beating Brazil last year is something that will stick with you forever and so will France too.
It’s something everyone involved can be immensely proud of moving forward. Beating both those teams is a great achievement for everyone involved.
"If we can go out and beat France then the sky’s the limit for the teams we can take out in this tournament. We’ve got good enough players with good coaching that we can really have a good go at this tournament.
"It’s very similar to last year in terms of coming up against big teams and everyone asking the question then going out and doing the job. Hopefully, we can go one step better this year than last year and get to the Final but we’ll see how things go."
Ralston will go back to Celtic in the new season and is hoping to play his part with the Double Treble winners.
He said: "Going back into Celtic I’ll be hoping to push and show I can hopefully get in the team. That will be my main aim.
"If things don’t work out I’ll just have to see how things go. I’m looking forward to getting back in for pre-season, getting my head down and working again."