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 on Monday.
Ethiopia, one of the founding fathers of African soccer, who had fallen on hard times before enjoying a recent revival, had goalkeeper Jemal Tassew sent off in the first half of a game that also featured a missed penalty and disgruntled vuvuzela-throwing fans.
Zambia’s Collins Mbesuma scored in first-half stoppage-time after Tassew had been red-carded for a dangerous foul on Chisamba Lungu, but captain Adane Girma equalized midway through the second half for Ethiopia.
“I’m happy as we missed a penalty and drew. This is our first experience after 31 years, so as you see, it was fantastic for our football,” Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw said. “The players have shown their characters and shown the rest of the world they can play football. The goalkeeper also has to defend, he went to defend the ball and shouldn’t have been red-carded.”
Zambia coach Herve Renard said: “First of all, I would like to congratulate Ethiopia for a very good performance.”
“I’m not surprised — I said be careful of this team, they are able to play very good football,” he said. “Today, we have to thank our goalkeeper — without Kennedy Mweene it could have been a very, very bad result. Our fans expected more than we did today and they are right. Today, it was the fault of the coach. I did not prepare the team well to start the competition — we’ll see how things go after the third game.”
Zambia featured 10 of the 11 that performed heroics in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 12 months ago, with out-of-form Nyamba Mulenga the lone absentee.
The 40,000-seat Mbombela Stadium was only a quarter full, with barely a Zambia fan in the sparse, albeit colorful crowd, but one that did turn up, a man, was in a bikini.
Against the run of play, Ethiopia almost pinched the lead when Salahdin Said Ahmed pounced on a poor clearance by defender Joseph Musonda and lobbed onrushing Mweene, only for the ball to bounce over the crossbar.
Said then won a 23rd-minute penalty when he was felled by Lungu in the box, but his spot-kick lacked steel and was saved by Mweene.
At the other end, drama ensued after a high-velocity clash between Lungu and Tassew, who rushed out from his goal, boots flying.
The Ethiopia goalkeeper 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.
That incensed the Ethiopia fans, who pelted the pitch with vuvuzelas and water bottles.
To add to the tension, a South African fighter jet chose that moment to scream low over the stadium, as Zerihun Tadele entered the fray to replace Tassew.
Zambia went in front when Mbesuma ran on to Isaac Chansa’s headed pass to shoot left-footed past Tadele with the Ethiopia defense at fault.
That provoked another angry volley of vuvuzelas, cutting short the Zambia 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 Girma, with the captain slotting in a close-range shot.
A frantic climax failed to change the deadlock, with Tadele producing a good save to deny a late shot from Mbesuma.