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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.

WATCH: Zlatan on scene as Malmo unveils 9-foot Ibrahimovic statue

Photo by Atila Altuntas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is so humble, it must’ve really bothered him to see a shirtless statue of himself in his hometown.

Of course, we kid; The mega striker, whose skills are only topped by his confidence, loves the darn thing.

[ MORE: USMNT players in focus ]

Fair Malmo is our scene, where the 38-year-old oversaw the unveiling of a nearly 9-foot statue of the well-traveled champion.

Ibrahimovic has 52 goals in 56 matches for the LA Galaxy, who open the MLS Cup Playoffs on Oct. 20 in Minnesota.

Sweden’s all-time leading scorer with 62 goals in 116 caps, Ibrahimovic has won league titles in Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and  France. He’s also been named the Swedish Male Athlete of the Year on four occasions.

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.

USMNT’s Johannsson finds new home in Sweden

Aron Johannsson
hammarbyfotboll.se
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Aron Johanssson looks to reclaim his career momentum not in Major League Soccer as rumored, but instead in Sweden.

The Icelandic-Alabamian striker was unveiled by Hammarby on Thursday, where he’ll soon have match fitness according to his new club.

[ MORE: SMS to Man Utd? ]

Johannsson, 28, stays in green, having played just 30 times for Werder Bremen since transferring from AZ Alkmaar of the Eredivisie.

Here’s Jesper Jansson, Hammarby’s director of football.

Aron belongs to the same category of players as Jiloan Hamad, Muamer Tankovic and Alexander Kacaniklic did when they came here, players who for various reasons are in need of some of a new start in their careers, and for that category of players, Hammarby is attractive as a club,” Jansson said. “Aron is a moving, offensive player who makes a lot of goals, and we are very happy to be able to tie him to us.”

The 19-times capped USMNT striker has four goals on his international resume, and was last seen as an unused sub in 2016 World Cup qualifying losses to Costa Rica and Mexico.

Hammarby finished fourth in the 2018 Allsvenskan but missed out on Europa League due to BK Hacken winning the Swedish Cup. The club is currently six points back of third place with a match-in-hand on AIK.

Also pictured is former Greuther Furth player Richard Magyar, who played with USMNT midfielder Julian Green last season in 2.Bundesliga.

Sweden holds off England comeback to claim third place (video)

AP Photo/Claude Paris
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After suffering heartbreak at the hands of the Netherlands in the semifinals, Sweden finished their run at the 2019 Women’s World Cup with a 2-1 victory over England in the third-place game in Nice, France, on Saturday.

[ PREVIEW: USWNT faces Netherlands in World Cup final ]

Sweden jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before England appeared to realize they were facing an opponent who very badly wanted to finish third. By that time, Sweden had hunkered down and it was too late.

Kosovare Asllani opened the scoring in the 11th minute after Alex Greenwood failed to clear the ball in the box and touched it to no one near the penalty spot. Asllani hit her shot hard and low, with just enough pace to power through the outstretched hands of Carly Telford.

Sofia Jakobsson doubled the Swedes’ lead barely 10 minutes later, and this was the moment it became crystal clear that England were not yet up to full speed. Stina Blackstenius played simple ball to Jakobsson in acres of space down the left side of England’s penalty area. No one made an attempt to close her down, so she waltzed into the box before unleashing a screamer toward the far post.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Peru, Copa America’s unlikely final ]

Once England awoke, they were quickly back in the game. Fran Kirby scored a spectacular solo goal in the 31st minute, weaving in and out and back in to set up an effortless finish, to cut the Three Lionesses’ deficit in half.

The comeback appeared complete just five minutes later, when Ellen White put the ball in the back of the net for the seventh eighth time, only to have her goal wiped off the board for the second time in as many games. She was deemed to have gained an advantage by touching the ball with her forearm during the build-up.

Nilla Fischer saved the day for Sweden with a last-gasp goal-line clearance in the 90th minute. Lucy Bronze had a look from close range, but Fischer put her body — and her head — on the line to preserve her side’s lead and help Sweden over the finish line.