CHAMPIONS Zambia kicked off their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title defence yesterday with a shocking draw against a 10-man Ethiopia in an eventful Group C opener.
The draw came as a consolation to the Ethiopians who had earlier missed a penalty and later their goalkeeper, Jemal Tassew was sent off at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa.
In-form striker Collins Mbesuma gave the Chipolopolo the lead in the final minute of the first half stoppage time, only for the Walya Antelopes to crawl back into the game with Adane Girma equalising in the second half.
Mbesuma scored his sixth goal for the national team and first at the AFCON when he raced past two defenders before finishing with aplomb, giving substitute goalkeeper, Zerihun Tadele no chance.
The burly striker had burst between defenders after controlling Isaac Chansa's flick-ball inside the box for Zambia to take a deserved 1-0 advantage at the interval.
Earlier, Gabonese referee, Castane Otogo had awarded the Walya Antelopes a penalty in the 23rd minute after penalising Chisamba Lungu for tripping Saladin Said in the box.
But first-choice goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene, who made some fantastic saves at the last AFCON finals, calmly palmed away a Said spot-kick, much to the relief of the Zambians.
After surviving that scare, Herve Renard's men upped the tempo and skipper Christopher Katongo saw his shot parried away by Tassew for a corner.
Before Ethiopia were awarded a penalty, defender Stoppila Sunzu had blasted over the bar an ambitious scorcher just two minutes into the match.
With Ethiopian fans, who seemingly had outnumbered Zambians booing each move the champions were making, the Chipolopolo kept pressing and on 15 minutes, Chansa, after being teed up by Christopher Katongo, ballooned his effort.
However, a defensive horror a minute later saw the Chipolopolo almost punished but Said saw his ball bounce over Mweene and the goal post.
On 32 minutes, Lungu chipped a probing ball over Tassew but the goalkeeper came off with a wild tackle and the referee reached for his back pocket and flashed a red card.
Ethiopian fans reacted by throwing some objects on the pitch and play was disturbed for about seven minutes.
The Chipolopolo, now enjoying numerical advantage, pushed up for the opener which only came three minutes into stoppage time.
With Zambia seemingly struggling to grab the second despite dominating, Ethiopia crafted a goal out of nothing after catching the rear guard napping.
As Chansa and Hichani Himoonde failed to cut out a Said pass, Girma finished superbly, beating Mweene on the near-post and restore parity for the Ethiopians, who returned to the AFCON for the first time since 1982.
Despite enjoying lengthy ball possession, Zambia still failed to find the elusive second goal with Mbesuma's snap shot on 79 minutes being punched away for a corner.
Zambia will return to Mbombela Stadium on Friday for the juicy second match against Nigeria.
Zambia: Kennedy Mweene, Davies Nkausu, Hichani Himoonde, Stoppila Sunzu, Joseph Musonda (Jacob Mulenga 60th), Chisamba Lungu, Isaac Chansa (Mukuka Mulenga 76th), Nathan Sinkala, Rainford Kalaba, Christopher Katongo (Emmanuel Mayuka 84th), Collins Mbesuma.