Zapata Brace Cancels Ajax Double Lead to Revive Atalanta

Never say never with Atalanta: The Bergamaschi managed to cancel a double lead for Ajax with a Duvan Zapata brace to hold the Dutch to a 2-2 draw in their second Champions League outing and maintain the second place in Group D behind Liverpool – who easily disposed of Danish side Midtjylland.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s war machine, however, is continuing to show some cracks especially on the defensive side as once again they conceded at least two goals to their opponents. But this is still Atalanta, after all, and so the home side – for the first time playing at their renewed Gewiss Stadium in Champions League – also served the specialty of the house: The comeback, powered by their unstoppable Colombian striker.

With two of the most offensive sides in Europe on the pitch, one would have expected to see plenty of action and scoring chances from the start. But rather than shots on goal, both Atalanta and Ajax ended up exchanging a few hard tackles in the initial stages of the match as referee Damir Skomina had to dispense four yellow cards in the first 30 minutes to keep things under control.

It was playing with fire and in the end it was Atalanta to go a bit too far as Robin Gosens knocked down Lassina Traoré in the box with an inconceivably clumsy tackle. Dusan Tadic buried the spot to make 0-1 for the Ajacieds.

The Dutch doubled their lead in the 38th minute as Traoré did everything by himself this time, using his killer instinct and a bit of luck. David Neres whipped the ball in the box from the left side, goalkeeper Marco Sportiello pounced on it but failed to block it, prompting the Ajax Burkinabé striker’s tap in from point-blank range.

It was quite a severe punishment for the Bergamaschi who had made themselves dangerous at least twice before Ajax’s goals with Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic. Gian Piero Gasperini didn’t make any change, however, and sent the same 11 men into the second half.

A powerful free-kick shot from Ilicic right after the restart seemed to show that the trend could change but André Onana somehow managed to punch it away. 20-year-old Perr Schuurs replied immediately for Ajax as he dribbled three Atalanta players before hitting Marco Sportiello with a central shot.

But it was indeed a different game now and Atalanta’s renewed pressure quickly cancelled Ajax’s lead with a Duvan Zapata brace in the space of five minutes.

First, the Colombian striker headed home a delicious Papu Gomez cross to halve his side’s gap. Then, right after Ajax coach Erik ten Hag has started to take countermeasures by sending in Sean Klaiber in place of Noussair Mazraoui, he made the best out of a Mario Pasalic service progressing into the white-and-red area and violently whipping the ball past helpless Onana.

Gasperini was just about to substitute Zapata and replace him with his fellow countryman Luis Muriel but seemed to change his mind as he saw his striker unleashing such a pandemonium – and who would argue with that? Muriel’s time came only in the 78th minute but it was in place of Alejandro Gomez. Ruslan Malinovskyi also came into play, relieving Josip Ilicic of his duties.

One minute earlier, Marco Sportiello had to palm away a brilliant right-foot challenge from Brazilian striker Antony – well served by Traorè with a back-heel pass – as Ajax showed they were still up for a fight despite the shock of the double lead cancelled. Antony and Sportiello staged the same duel a few minutes later, with Atalanta’s goalkeeper again able to defuse the Brazilian’s challenge.

Chances dwindled for Atalanta as time went by. Malinovskyi ‘s long-range shot in the 89th minute was powerful but central and didn’t trouble Onana too much. The Ukrainian unleashed another one two minutes later, this time missing the goal target by a few inches. Then he closed his game with a rough tackle on Antony that earned him a yellow card – and perhaps was worth a red one, as his opponent had to leave the pitch on a stretcher.

It ended with one point each – an outcome that leaves everything in discussion in Group D, where Liverpool seem to be one step ahead, and Atalanta and Ajax will likely have to battle for the second spot when they meet again at the Johann Crujiff Arena in November.



October 27, 2020 – Champions League 2020-21 Group Stage

SCORERS: 33′ Tadic (Aj, pen.), 38′ Traoré (Aj), 54′ Zapata (At), 60′ Zapata (At)

ATALANTA (3-5-2) Sportiello; Toloi, Romero, Djimsiti; Hateboer, Freuler, Pasalic, Gosens; Gomez (78′ Muriel); Ilicic (78′ Malinovskyi), Zapata (Gollini, Rossi, Ruggeri, Palomino, Depaoli, Mojica, Pessina, Lammers, Miranchuk, Traorè) Coach: Gasperini
AJAX (4-3-3): Onana; Mazraoui (56′ Klaiber), Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; Gravenberch, Tadic, Klassen; Neres (69′ Promes), Traorè, Antony (94′ Labyad) (Stekelenburg, Scherpen, Alvarez, Ekkelenkamp, Martinez, Brobbey) Coach: Ten Hag

REFEREE: Skomina (Slovenia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Ilicic, Djimsiti, Malinovskyi (At), Traorè, Klaassen, Mazraoui (Aj); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 5′