Duvan Zapata: Colombia's secret weapon
Background photo: Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), CC-BY-SA 4.0
In the last decade and half, no country outside Brazil, Uruguay or Chile has won the Copa America. Before that, Colombia hosted and lifted the trophy in 2001. This year, the Colombians are threatening to repeat their feat from 18 years ago. As he’s proven already, a certain Duvan Zapata is capable and willing to help.
A lot has been said about how defence wins titles, still, it requires an unfathomable miracle to win a competition without scoring some good goals. That’s why strikers remain an indispensable commodity in football.
In the department of goal-poachers, Colombia always brags with the name El Tigre – a man known to the football populace as Radamel Falcao. The centre-forward who’s made the net bulge 34 times of the 87 times he put on the Colombian National jersey needs no introduction.
Falcao still skippers and features for La Tricolors, but age and injuries have caught up with, and almost overtaken the 33-year-old goal-machine. He’s lost that proverbial yard of pace and is gradually losing his anointed position in the Colombian first team. No need to panic, though, Los Cafeteros have a replacement.
Duvan Zapata's rise
Before the 2019 Copa America, one name everyone knew would make the list was Duvan Zapata. The reason was simple – he was the most in-form Colombian forward in Europe. There was also a sense of responsibility, his country owed Zapata. They dropped him from their World Cup squad - only to discover they needed more firepower in Russia.
Colombia’s exit in the round of 16 was enough to bring to a halt the six-year spell of the manager who dared to overlook Zapata.
While Jose Pekerman was being shown the door and Carlos Queiroz ushered in, Zapata made a stomping ground of the Serie A, rifling home 23 goals in 32 starts while making seven more goals for others.
Zapata’s goals were enough to help Atalanta qualify for the Champions League. Although the 28-year-old proved he can score goals aplenty at club level, there were concerns on whether he could replicate the feat with the Tricolors. All that doubt disappeared like smoke when the Copa America began. Zapata exhibited the same guile and technical ability that earned him reverence in Italy. Many thanks to Queiroz who trusted him over the tiring Falcao.
Stats for Atalanta
• He's strong, pacy and has good jumping ability which will make him fit into PL well
• He netted in eight consecutive Serie A games
What is Ed Woodward waiting for?
This is a perfect replacement or even better than Lukaku!😎 https://t.co/iRTRh9diFq
Zapata has gradually gained the trust of everyone in the Colombian setup. Pekerman sees him as the natural successor to Falcao. As things stand, the Colombian Tiger is yet to celebrate a goal he scored, whereas Zapata has done so twice.
His goals (against Argentina and Qatar) helped Colombia reach the quarter-finals with their 100% record intact. But the Atalanta man isn’t finished, yet. The bottom line is, if Pekerman keeps looking Zapata’s way, he’ll have plenty course to jubilate after every final whistle.
At the moment, no one is putting it beyond Zapata to emerge 2019 Copa America top-scorer. The pacey forward has the hunger and wherewithal to etch his name in the history books of continental football.
The Colombian threat
It goes without saying that Colombia is among the scariest teams at the Copa. They made light work of Argentina on matchday one, and despite resting players still overpowered Paraguay in their last group game in a similar fashion.
Paraguay skipper Gustavo Gomez described the loss to Colombia as losing “to one of the best teams in the world”. The Palmeiras defender isn’t too far from the truth. Colombia is a pretty difficult team to break down defensively – that much can be deduced from the fact they’re yet to concede after three games. The Colombians are fast and cause damage each time they hit on the break.
Argentina fell flat to the Colombian challenge – if Brazil or Chile falls too, there’s no stopping Colombia.
Up next for the Tricolors is a tie against Chile. Zapata and his cohorts can’t wait to rain mayhem.