NELSPRUIT, South Africa - Ten-man Ethiopia celebrated its return to the African Cup of Nations by holding defending champion Zambia to a 1-1 draw in a Group C opener that featured a missed penalty and vuvuzelas thrown onto the field.
Ethiopia last featured at the continental showpiece back in 1982, and was buoyed by the presence of around 10,000 fans at the Mbombela Stadium who showed both their best and worst sides over an entertaining 90 minutes.
Supporters hurled vuvuzelas and other debris onto the pitch in anger after the first-half sending off of Ethiopia goalkeeper Jemal Tassew, causing an eight-minute delay to the match and forcing riot police to be deployed.
However, their anger turned to unbridled joy when Adane Girma's 65th-minute strike cancelled out Collins Mbesuma's opener.
Ethiopia controlled play for much of the first half, with Saladin Seida shaving the crossbar with a clever chip and then missing a penalty in the 25th minute.
But sevent minutes later, Tassew's flying lunge on Chisamba Lungu with his studs at stomach height saw the goalkeeper both red carded and carried off on a stretcher, bringing a chaotic reaction from Ethiopia's supporters.
"The goalkeeper is not only a goalkeeper, he is also a defender and he went to defend the ball. I tell you that should not be a red card," Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw said. "The reaction of the fans is normal. They are supporting their boys and they want them to win."
However, Zambia coach Herve Renard agreed with the referee's decision.
"I saw the red card on the screen and for me he deserved to be sent off," he said.
The match resumed once order had been restored, and Mbesuma made the most of Zambia's numerical advantage in first-half injury time following a clever flick-on by Isaac Chansa.
Ethiopia regrouped during the break and were rewarded for a disciplined second-half showing when Seida's layoff allowed Girma to fire home from the right-hand side.
With Renard having taken off left back Joseph Musonda just five minutes earlier in favour of a third striker, the Frenchman was left to regret a tactical miscalculation.
The result was a major setback for Zambia, which stunned the continent by claiming a maiden African crown in Gabon 12 months ago but wasted several build-ups with wayward long-range shots.
"I would like to congratulate the Ethiopian team. I thought they put in a very good performance, but it's no great surprise for me," Renard said. "I think today it was the fault of the coach because I did not prepare this side to start very well. It was a very bad result, but we deserved what we got."
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