As the nation prepares for the knockout stages of Euro 2016, one man in the Fylde ranks knows more than most about the pressure that comes with international football.

Coasters left-back Stephen Crainey featured for Scotland for nine years, earning twelve caps for the Tartan Army.

The former Premier League star has many memories of playing for Scotland, the best of them making his debut against a star-studded France side in 2002.

“My best memory was when I made my debut,” admitted Crainey. “France were the World and European Champions at the time and to get the call up when I was so young at Celtic was an unbelievable experience for me. We played in the Stade De France in front of 80,000 fans and at that age it was a great learning curve early on for me so in my career.

“We lost the game 5-0 but to be playing against the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinidine Zidane at that age set me in a good stead for my career.”

Unfortunately, Crainey was never able to represent Scotland in a major tournament, but the ex-Blackpool man is confident that the current batch of Scotland players has what it takes to change all that.

“I think they can do very well to be honest. I think they’ve got a good young squad coming through and they were unlucky not to qualify for the championships this time around. They were in a tough group and it was between them and the Republic of Ireland to qualify and Ireland just pipped us to it.

“There’s a lot of optimism and I think that the future can be very bright for Scotland. I want to see them making all the major tournaments but at the same time I think all the lesser teams in this day-and-age are all getting better too.

“I don’t think that gap is as big as it used to be. Even when you look at Iceland and Albania, they’ve done really well in these Championships playing against top teams. I think it has levelled itself out and it’s getting closer and closer every year now.”

The current championships are now reaching the end of the group stage and Crainey highlighted the lack of goal so far but is confident that the Euros will heat up as the tournament goes on.

“I think it’s been good but as a neutral but I would’ve liked to have seen loads more goals to be honest. I’m sure that’ll come when the knockout stages come and the teams are going after it a little bit more. Even in the third game of the group stages, teams know what they have to do and the games might open up a bit.

“I can understand the lack of goals, going back to the point about teams getting better and so-called smaller nations. They can’t be called smaller nations if they’re making a major tournament. I think that gap has been bridged and maybe teams are setting up a bit more defensive to play on the counter attack and it’s harder to break that down.”

Northern Ireland are one of the smallest populated nations at Euro 2016 and Crainey’s former Blackpool teammate Craig Cathcart has been a big part of their success and he is not surprised by Cathcart’s superb form.

“To be honest, in the campaign leading up to qualifying, Northern Ireland were unbelievable. When I played with Craig at Blackpool, I can tell you he was a top quality player. He’s gone on and done really well for his country and for Watford as well. Craig’s an all-round player and he’s not afraid to tackle earlier which is good.”

Everyone will have their own opinion on who is favourite to win this summer’s tournament and Crainey admitted it was a tough decision to pick an outright winner but admits Spain look like the team to beat.

“I think there will be a few teams that fancy their chances. I think the likes of Spain, Germany, France and England. Italy as well but I don’t think any team has majorly stood out so far.

“I think if Spain click into gear, I think it’s hard to get the ball off them and if they start finding goals as well, I think they’ll be hard to stop.”