Italy

Poker star Zapata brews into a beast

Duvan Zapata of Atalanta BC celebrates after scoring.
© Getty Images
  • Duvan Zapata has hit 13 goals in his last seven Serie A games
  • The 27-year-old is fighting to eclipse Cristiano Ronaldo and Pippo Inzaghi
  • Is he the man to solve Colombia’s Copa America scoring troubles?

CR7 10 - DZ91 1 = 9

That's not part of some entangled algebra equation, but the sum of the Serie A goal cushion Cristiano Ronaldo had over Duvan Zapata when the latter put feet to field for the first time in December. What happened next contravenes the revered works of Gerolamo Cardano, Christiaan Huygens, Abraham de Moivre or any of mathematics’ greatest probabilists.

That nine-goal advantage has, in merely seven rounds, shrivelled into equality. It’s not that the insatiable Juventus forward has decelerated in his quest to add the Capocannoniere to his Premier League Golden Boot and three Pichichis. It’s that the hulking Atalanta striker has hopped in a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati – one of the uber-esteemed sports cars of northern Italy – and whizzed off on one of the most remarkable goal gluts in the Italian top tier’s 121-year history.

Zapata has scored 13 times in seven appearances – a charge capstoned by a poker (scoring four goals) against Frosinone on Sunday – to draw level with Ronaldo and Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella atop of the goal chart.

“There is a first time for everything and I can’t deny the excitement over this goal poker,” the 27-year-old Colombian, on loan from Samp, wrote on Instagram.

Zapata, who unusually wears the No91 jersey popularised by Dennis Rodman at the Chicago Bulls and Sergei Fedorov at the Detroit Red Wings, added self-effacingly during his run: “[Alejandro] Gomez and [Josip] Ilicic have crazy ability. I said to myself after the first training session: ‘If I don’t score with them, I’ll never score.

“I learned a lot from Gonzalo Higuain at Napoli. His movement is spectacular. The same goes for Quagliarella at Samp. Training with certain players is a privilege.”

Milestones

  • Zapata, thanks to nine goals in December, became the first player since AC Milan's Gunnar Nordahl in February 1950 to score over eight Serie A goals in a calendar month.
  • The Cali native has become the first player in Atalanta history to score in eight straight games in all competitions.
  • Zapata became against Frosinone just the third Atalanta player – and first in 66 years – to score four goals in a Serie A contest.
  • Atalanta have averaged more league goals per game in 2018/19 (2.2) than every other team in Serie A, Bayern Munich (2.17), Tottenham Hotspur (2.09), Manchester United (2.0), Chelsea (1.74), Atletico Madrid (1.5) and Real Madrid (1.5).

Zapata is the latest off a conveyor belt of South Americans to have become terrace darlings at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, succeeding Humberto Maschio, Dino da Costa, Evair, Claudio Caniggia, Alemao, Paolo Montero, German Denis and Gomez. Tagged as relegation candidates when they lost Italy midfielder Bryan Cristante to Roma pre-season, Atalanta are just three points off the UEFA Champions League qualification places.

Could Colombia be about to devour similar fruit as they prepare for the Copa America? Zapata flashed his brilliance, alongside James Rodriguez and Luis Muriel, at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2011. But the presence of the latter, Falcao, Carlos Bacca, and Miguel Borja has restricted him to only five Colombia caps, and he was agonisingly cut from Jose Pekerman’s provisional squad for last year’s FIFA World Cup™.

Despite dazzling at Brazil 2014 and only losing on penalties to England in the Round of 16 at Russia 2018, Los Cafeteros have struggled to shine at the Copa America. Their defect? Surprisingly, goals. One of them in their last five knockout-phase games, to be precise.

If DZ91 can maintain his charge to outnumber Ronaldo and become the first Atalanta player since a fresh-faced Pippo Inzaghi in 1996/97 to claim the Capocannoniere, surely Colombia’s soon-to-be-appointed coach can't overlook the data he's delivering?

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