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Kevin Walker closing in on Swedish “Idol,” league title double

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STOCKHOLM (AP) Winning Sweden’s biggest reality talent show has opened up plenty of opportunities in Kevin Walker’s burgeoning music career.

He has worked with some of the country’s top songwriters, written and performed his own singles which have been played millions of times on Spotify, and would be a good bet to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest sometime in the not-so-distant future.

He dreams of one day singing at Madison Square Garden in New York, or Wembley Stadium in London.

Walker isn’t forgetting about his day job, though.

When he’s not in a studio or making music videos, the 30-year-old Walker is a soccer player with Djurgarden, which is in contention to win the Swedish league title for the first time in 14 years.

A professional since 2006, he has played for Sweden’s national youth teams and won domestic cup competitions. But this would be his first league title, the crowning achievement of his soccer career.

And, heading into the final pressure-filled three weeks of the season, Walker is using his experience in “Idol” – the singing competition that thrust him into the national consciousness six years ago – as something of a lesson.

“I went out of my comfort zone, did something in front of millions of people that I wasn’t trained to do,” the central midfielder told The Associated Press in an interview on a chilly afternoon before Djurgarden’s practice session in central Stockholm.

“I got through that, and really learned about how I work under immense pressure and when I get nervous. It was developing for me as a person, and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Somewhat accidentally, Walker became one of the most famous soccer players in Sweden despite never having played for the national team at senior level.

In 2013, he was playing for Sundsvall in Sweden’s second division. A teammate was due to perform at an open mic night at the city’s casino but couldn’t find a babysitter, so he asked Walker if he wanted to stand in.

He had always liked a “sing-song” from when he was a small child and he used to go to Ireland – the birthplace of his father, Pat, a former soccer player and coach – to visit family. So Walker took the plunge.

Someone filmed him singing four songs alongside a piano player, and the video was shown to a producer of “Idol” when the show was in town looking for contestants. Walker ended up applying, passing the auditions, and winning the whole thing – earning a contract with Universal Music in the process.

“I was standing there singing with Robbie Williams in The Globe,” Walker said, referring to his duet with the world-famous pop singer in the arena in Stockholm that staged “Idol.” “It was pretty surreal.”

During “Idol,” he became front-page news. Commercial flights from Sundsvall to Stockholm were held back to allow Walker to get to the airport after soccer practice and fly down to the capital to perform live on stage. Swedish TV rearranged the time of a Sundsvall game to accommodate Walker’s appearance on the show.

His debut album – “Belong” – went platinum. His popularity was soaring. So it gave Walker a dilemma: Stick with soccer or become a full-time musician?

Still in his mid-20s, he chose soccer.

“They have a saying in Sweden, `While the iron is hot,’ – but I felt differently,” Walker said. “I thought, `This is great, now I have a platform which, if I play my cards right, I can develop and have a product after football.'”

So he has intermittently released singles off his own back, having ended his contract with Universal to allow him to write his own songs and dictate the pace of his music career.

“The Wind” was released in 2016 without a record label and has been his most popular song on Spotify, with more than 2.5 million plays. His latest single – “Maybe I” – was released in August and Walker said it had 120,000 streams in a month and a half. He plans to release an EP soon.

He has worked with producer Per Gessle, the male half of pop duo Roxette, and collaborated with Jorgen Elofsson, who has co-written songs for the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears.

But Walker, now a father of two, doesn’t see himself as having a “rock-star lifestyle.” He simply wants to stay relevant in music until his days as a soccer player are over, when he can really go hard at his new career.

That’s something he still sees as being a few years off.

“When I start thinking that my next football contract should be pegged up for my music, then maybe I shouldn’t be signing that contract,” said Walker, who has one year left on his deal with Djurgarden.

“I’m in a good place now. Probably in my prime, football-wise, for the next two, three years. So I think football will dictate the next contract. But I’d have to think of the bigger picture as well.”

Walker started playing for Djurgarden in 2015, was soon made captain, and helped the team win the Swedish Cup last year. He has had to battle for his place in the team this season but is still a key member of a squad that is tied on points with Malmo with three matches remaining.

“For my personal record, this is 14 or 15 years in the works,” said Walker, whose Irish heritage comes out when he talks. “There’s a lot that has been leading up to this point.”

Walker was at AIK, another Stockholm-based soccer team, when it won the league in 2009 but he didn’t get a winner’s medal because he missed the whole season with a blood-poisoning illness.

It was during that year he bought a guitar and keyboard, and started writing songs at home to kill some time.

A decade later, Walker – a musician, rather improbably, in his own right – could finally become a soccer champion, too.

Arsenal beat Spurs in front of WSL-record crowd of 38,262

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LONDON (AP) The first north London derby in the Women’s Super League produced a record crowd of 38,262 for the competition on Sunday when Arsenal claimed a 2-0 victory at Tottenham.

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The newly fully professional side held out until the 66th minute when Kim Little struck for the champions and Vivianne Miedema extended Arsenal’s lead in the 82nd minute.

It was the first time Tottenham, in its first top-flight campaign, had staged women’s football at its main 61,000-capacity stadium, which opened earlier this year.

The crowd surpassed the 31,213 at Manchester City for the visit of Manchester United on the opening weekend of the season in September.

Tottenham hosted Arsenal on the first designated Women’s Football Weekend in England which also saw 23,500 at Anfield for Liverpool’s 1-0 loss to Everton.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

Chelsea opened the season by hosting Tottenham in front of around 25,000 at Stamford Bridge.

League leaders Chelsea were back at their usual home of Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Maren Mjelde’s penalty sealed a 1-0 victory over promoted Manchester United in front of 4,790 fans – a WSL record crowd for a game not played in a large stadium usually used by the men’s team.

VIDEO: Dutch 2nd-division game stopped for racist abuse; player later scores goal

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A Dutch second-division game between Den Bosch and Excelsior was temporarily stopped on Sunday due to suspected racist chanting and Nazi salutes performed by some of Den Bosch’s fans.

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The game was halted by referee Laurens Gerrets in the 30 minute. Dutch winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira, who plays for Excelsior, was the player targeted by the racist chanting. He was at that time seen gesturing toward the crowd, indicating to Gerrets and teammates that he was hearing racist abuse from the stands.

In a mixed zone for media availability after the game, Den Bosch manager Erik van der Ven is reported to have called Mendes Moreira a “pathetic little man” for pointing out the racist abuse to Gerrets. Den Bosch released a statement claiming that no racist abuse occurred, that the fans were instead making “crow sounds” and treating Mendes Moreira to a “crow concert,” which they claim is part of customary treatment of opposing players.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

Mendes Moreira appeared emotional after scoring a goal to put Excelsior 2-1 ahead fewer than 15 minutes after the game was restarted.

Defending champs Portugal qualify for EURO 2020

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Defending European champions Portugal booked their place at the 2020 European Championship with a 2-0 victory away to Luxembourg on Sunday, the final day of qualification.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

Portugal (17 points) finishes second in Group B behind Ukraine (20), three points ahead of third-place Serbia which will now go the qualification playoffs route in March.

Bruno Fernandes scored Sunday’s winner in the 39th minute, followed by a late insurance goal from Cristiano Ronaldo in the 86th.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

As things stand, Portugal, who won the European title in 2016 and followed it up with the inaugural UEFA Nations League crown earlier this year, will be placed into Pot 3, alongside Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Austria and Sweden. Ukraine, meanwhile, is assured of being seeded in Pot 1.

Southgate: Gomez to ‘clear his head’ following injury, Sterling incident

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Gareth Southgate believes Joe Gomez has a chance to “clear his head” in the wake of this week’s incident with England teammate Raheem Sterling, thanks to the minor knee which forced Gomez out of the England team for Sunday’s game against Kosovo.

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Gomez suffered the injury in a clash of knees during Friday’s training session, but Southgate stated emphatically that Gomez is “absolutely fine” after undergoing a scan “and I think he’ll be fine in a couple of days.”

As Southgate sees, the injury could be something of a blessing in disguise for Gomez, who earlier this week was involved in a brief physical confrontation with Sterling, to “clear his head” before beginning his regular work week back at Liverpool. Southgate believes that both players have received closure over the incident and can now move forward without issue.

“I think now is a good moment for him just to go home for a couple of days, clear his head.”

“I think the fact that Raheem put out the tweet was real closure on that whole incident. We get Raheem back on the pitch tomorrow. We won the match on Thursday and we can now just look forwards.

“You couldn’t make it up, really, if you tried, but he’s absolutely fine. He took a clash of knees yesterday. We scanned it just to be certain and I think he’ll be fine in a couple of days.”

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

England secured qualification to this summer’s European Championship with a 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro, a game for which Sterling was dropped. Even before Gomez’s injury forced him out of the team, Sterling was set to return to the England team for Sunday’s qualifying finale.