NELSPRUIT, South Africa, January 21 – Ethiopia, back at the Africa Cup of Nations after a three-decade absence, overcame a red card to hold champions Zambia to a 1-1 draw in an explosive Group C encounter Monday.
Ethiopia, one of the founding fathers of African football who had fallen on hard times before enjoying a recent revival, had keeper Jemal Tassew sent off in the first half of a game that also featured a missed penalty and disgruntled vuvuzela-throwing fans.
China-based captain Christopher Katongo and Collins Mbesuma led the Zambian attack, with Salahdin Said the lone frontman for Ethiopia.
Zambia featured 10 of the XI that performed heroics in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 12 months ago with Nyamba Mulenga the lone absentee.
The 40,000-seat Mbombela Stadium was only a quarter full, with barely a Zambian fan in the sparse albeit colourful crowd, but one that did turn up, a man, was in a bikini.
Against the run of play, Ethiopia almost pinched the lead when Said pounced on a poor clearance from defender Joseph Musonda and lobbed onrushing Kennedy Mweene only for the ball to bounce over the crossbar.
Said then won a 23rd-minute penalty when he was felled by Chisamba Lungu in the box but his spot-kick lacked steel and was kept out by Mweene with the disgusted striker burying his head in his hands.
At the other end, drama ensued after a high velocity clash between Lungu and Tassew, who rushed out from his goal, boots flying.
The Ethiopian keeper came off worse in the reckless assault, lying stricken on the ground for an age before being stretchered off — with Gabonese referee Castane Otogo waving him goodbye, a red card in his hand.
This incensed the Ethiopian fans, who pelted the pitch with vuvuzelas (plastic horns) and water bottles, ignoring the stadium announcer’s impassioned pleas to stop.
To add to the air of tension, a South African fighter jet chose that moment to scream low over the stadium, as Zerihun Tadele entered the fray to replace Tassew between the posts.
Zambia went in front in the third minute of stoppage time when Orlando Pirates striker Mbesuma ran on to Isaac Chansa’s headed pass to shoot left-footed past Tadele with the Ethiopian defence at fault.
This provoked another angry volley of vuvuzelas, cutting short the Zambian players’ celebrations and prompting the arrival on the touchline of riot police.
With their numerical advantage, Zambia emerged for the second half eager to put the game to bed.
But Ethiopia had other plans.
On 65 minutes, Addis Hintsa, seconds after coming on for Getaneh Kebede, picked out Said who, in turn, found Adane Girma with the captain slotting an angled close-range shot past Mweene to finally give Ethiopian fans something to smile about.
A frantic climax failed to change the deadlock, with Tadele producing a good save to deny a late shot from Mbesuma.