Zambia/Ethiopia: Brave Ethiopia Battle Back Against Africa's Champions

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Zambia's Emmanuel Mayuka celebrates a goal at last year's Afcon finals.

Brave Ethiopia battled back from a goal and a man down to force a 1-1 draw with African champions Zambia in their opening Africa Cup of Nations clash on Monday.

The game at the Mbombela Stadium in South Africa's eastern Mpumalanga province was easily the most entertaining game of the competition so far, with Ethiopia also missing a first-half penalty as they gave a superb account of themselves.

Things looked bleak for them when goalkeeper Jemal Tassew received his marching orders in the first half and soon afterwards Zambia were ahead through Collins Mbesuma.

But the Ethiopians, appearing in their first finals since 1982, fought back bravely in the second period and earned a deserved point as Adane Girma netted for them. Zambia pushed for a winner in the closing stages, but with their opponents putting 10 men behind the ball, could not find a breakthrough.

Saladin Said was within a whisker of giving Ethiopia the lead when he lobbed the ball over the on-rushing Kennedy Mweene in the Chipolopolo goal, but the ball bounced agonisingly over the empty net.

The Ethiopian forward had been given an even better opportunity midway through the opening period when he was fouled inside the box by Chisamba Lungu. It was a clear spot kick, but Mweene produced an excellent save to deny the striker, diving full-stretch to his left.

It got even worse for Ethiopia 10 minutes before the break. In the incident which saw Tassew being sent off, he received a straight red card for a terrible high lunge on Lungu 40 yards from goal. It was the correct decision from referee Castane Otogo, but Tassew was red-carded while being carried off on a stretcher, seemingly out cold.

Objects rained onto the pitch from distraught Ethiopian fans, but they could have no complaints.

Their mood was worsened still when Zambia went ahead just before halftime with a well-worked goal, as Isaac Chansa headed the ball down into the box and Mbesuma skipped past two defenders before driving the ball past substitute goalkeeper Zerihun Tadele.

That really should have been that for Zambia; they had the numerical advantage seemed to have luck on their side.

But Chipolopolo took their foot off the pedal, and Ethiopia were level on 64 minutes. Said played in substitute Girma and he managed to get his shot away despite the lunge of Stophira Sunzu, the ball crashing in off the base of Mweene’s post.

Mbesuma thought Zambia should have had another penalty soon afterwards when he went down in the box. Replays showed there was some shirt-pulling, but instead the striker was harshly booked for simulation.

Ethiopia had a penalty shout of their own in the dying seconds when the ball appeared to strike the elbow of Sunzu, but the referee, who was standing just metres away, again waved play-on. It was a lucky let-off.

Zambia now look forward to a crunch meeting with Nigeria on Friday, while Ethiopia will look to build on this performance when they take on Burkina Faso on the same day.

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