Champions Zambia were held to a 1-1 draw by Ethiopia despite the Wayla Antelopes having goalkeeper Jemal Tassew sent off in the first half of their 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations clash at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Wednesday.
Nigeria and Burkina Faso also drew 1-1, leaving the four teams in Group C on equal footing with two more group games to play.
The two Group C draws took the tally of draws to five in six matches. Only Mali, which defeated Niger with an 84th minute strike by captain Seydou Keita in a Group B clash, has enjoyed the taste of victory.
After the clash between Zambia and Ethiopia, Chipolopolo coach Hervé Renard paid tribute to goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene for his performance, which included saving a penalty taken by Salahdin Said. "Today we have to thank our goal keeper because without Kennedy Mweene maybe it could have been a very bad result. I think we deserved today what we got," he said.
Struggling for form
Considering that the Zambians are the defending champions and Ethiopia is playing in the Afcon finals for the first time since 1982, that is quite some statement to make. The Zambians, though, have not been in good form leading up to the Afcon finals. Since beating South Africa 1-0 in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in November, they have lost to Tanzania and Angola, and drawn with Morocco.
Afcon 2013 should be an ideal opportunity for the Zambians to defend their title. Many of their players are with South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs, while many others have used the PSL as a stepping stone to a move overseas. They know the conditions, but desperately need to find a spark to ignite their campaign.
One man who could provide it is Collins Mbesuma, who scored their goal against Ethiopia. He was a sensation with Kaizer Chiefs before moving abroad. He has since returned to South Africa is currently with Orlando Pirates. His form appears to be on the up.
Chipolopolo had the better of the game after the dismissal of Tassew for an appalling challenge, but the Ethiopians caught them out with a sucker punch when Adane Girma netted in the 65th minute.
Saladine Said, despite his penalty miss, was the Antelopes' best player and posed a strong threat on the attack. He should be a familiar face to South African fans. He scored Ethiopia's goal in a 1-1 draw with Bafana Bafana in June 2012, which proved to be Pitso Mosimane's last game in charge. He was subsequently replaced by Gordon Igesund.
One other note to make about the game: a large number of passionate and loud Ethiopian fans, probably about 20 000-strong in number, made their support known, and it's something that could really boost the Antelopes' campaign.
Nigeria and Burkina Faso shared a 1-1 draw too, thanks to a goal at the death by Alain Traore, which earned the Stallions a share of the spoils.
The Nigerians enjoyed the better of the contest, but the sending off of Efe Ambrose with 15 minutes to play, after he picked up a second yellow card, gave Burkina Faso a one-man advantage.
The Super Eagles, though, led 1-0 after an Emmanuel Emenike goal in the 23rd minute and it appeared that the two-time champions were on their way to the top of the Group C standings.
Last kick of the game
Four minutes of time were added on at the end of regulation time and with the very last kick of the game, Traore netted for Burkina Faso. Godfrey Obobona, who up until then had been very solid at the back, had a chance to clear the ball, but made a mess of his effort and Traore capitalised on the defender's mistake to score.
John Obi Mikel starred for the Super Eagles in the midfield, starting attack after attack with his incisive passes, while goal scorer Emmanuel Emenike, who played only an hour, also showed up well, as did substitute striker Ikechukwu Uche, who lifted the energy of the Nigerian attack.
Jonathan Pitroipa, who set up Traore for the equaliser, was Burkina Faso's best player, very industrious and creative. Florent Rouamba excelled on defence, while substitute Wildred Sanou provided good width and crosses. Goal scorer, Alain Traore, a 65th minute substitute, impressed with his movement and interplay.
Waiting for a spark
The truth be told, however, Afcon 2013 is yet to take off. The tournament is waiting for a team to stamp its authority on the tournament.
The Group B clash between Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday provided excellent entertainment, but no team has yet thrust itself forward as a potential champion. That could change on Tuesday when Côte d'Ivoire, the highest ranked team in Africa at 14th in the Fifa World Rankings, takes on 77th ranked Togo.
The Ivorians are loaded with big name players and the tournament needs some of these players to show why they are big names for Afcon 2013 to take off. Five draws in six games is a so so showing so far.