As a 70-minute appearance for Colombia versus Ecuador late on Thursday night meant that Duvan Zapata was one of the last Atalanta players to return from international duty, the South American’s involvement against Empoli on Sunday afternoon was likely to be minimal.
In a way, tapping home the last goal of a 4-1 win at the Stadio Carlo Castellani moments before the final whistle certainly had little-to-no impact on the result, but 30-year-old’s strike was important nonetheless, as he joined an exclusive list of players to have netted 100 Serie A goals.
Of that esteemed group, just five players are currently active in the Italian top-flight – Fabio Quagliarella, Ciro Immobile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dries Mertens and Goran Pandev – and when Zapata first arrived on the peninsula back in 2013, few would have believed he would reach such a milestone.
However, the striker has become so vital to the success of La Dea in recent seasons and hopes they could mount a Scudetto challenge this term, that reigning champions Inter were strongly linked with the former Napoli man as they sought a replacement for Romelu Lukaku in the summer.
Apart from 13 goals in 31 Argentine Primera Division games for Estudiantes during the 2012/13 campaign, the Partenopei brought a young Zapata to Europe based on the potential his technical and physical attributes promised, yet life in Serie A began slowly.
After two years in Naples, 53 appearances in all competitions had yielded just 15 goals, and the attacker was heading north for loan spells with Udinese and Sampdoria respectively, which showed signs that much more was to come – averaging a decent 0.3 goals a game across three seasons.
When making the move from Genoa to Bergamo in 2018, though, it quickly became apparent that Zapata had found the perfect home at Atalanta and coach in Gian Piero Gasperini, with 23 Serie A strikes in 37 games to seal a permanent €12m move.
The innovative attacking approach of the 63-year-old tactician ensures an abundance of chances for the Colombian – averaging an impressive 0.55 goals per Serie A outing – and allows him to utilise his impressive link-up play with all of the supporting troops who invariably join in with each Atalanta attack.
While Inter may return for Zapata in the future if their title defence continues to stutter, the striker should consider how he has fared outside of Bergamo, despite being a more experienced player than the one arriving on the continent eight years ago.
At the peak of his powers and showing no signs of slowing down – four goals in six Serie A games this term – the ex-Zebrette frontman could yet reach 150 Serie A goals, which would put him somewhere within the top 25 goalscorers of all-time.