African Cup of Nations - 10-man Ethiopia battle to draw with Zambia

African Cup of Nations Group C, Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit – Zambia 1 (Mbesuma 45+3) Ethiopia 1 (Girma 65).

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Zambia's Stoppila Sunzu (L) vies for the ball with Ethiopia's Said Ahmed during their Group C 2013 African Cup of Nations football match at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on January 21, 2013 (AFP)

Ethiopia missed a penalty and had their goalkeeper sent off but still fought back to hold defending champions Zambia 1-1 in their African Cup of Nations Group C opener.

Saldin Said won but failed to convert a 23rd-minute spot-kick before keeper Jemal Tassew was shown a straight red card for serious foul play just after the half-hour mark.

Collins Mbesuma finished with aplomb to put Zambia ahead seconds before the break, but the Chipolopolo seemed to ease off in the second half and Ethiopia – despite being a man light – made them pay when Adane Girma fired home on 65 minutes.

Zambia did push for a winner but they looked worryingly short of ideas, although Jacob Mulenga missed a straightforward chance late on.

In the end Ethiopia were worthy of their point, which was greeted like a victory by their delighted bench and fans.

It had all started so promisingly for Ethiopia, making their first finals appearance in over 30 years.

Star man Said was looking lively and, after beating Zambia keeper Kennedy Mweene, was agonisingly unlucky to see his lob bounce off the dreadfully hard surface and land clear of the bar in freakish fashion.

The Wadi Degla forward, Ethiopia’s most expensive player after sealing a £200,000 move to the Egyptian side last season, also won a penalty using his tricky footwork – but he missed it, putting the finish weakly to the right as Mweene saved well.

Ethiopia could have been 2-0 up but they paid for their misfortune when Tassew – who had just made a good save from Chris Katongo – recklessly lunged out of his area with a high boot into the midriff of Chisamba Lungu.

After an eight-minute delay while both received treatment, Tassew was dismissed and Ethiopia – having been the better side – were down to 10 men.

They are hardly the most experienced international side – all bar three play domestically, and even then only Said features at any sort of level – so it seemed a matter of time before their 10 men would suffer at the hands of the defending champions.

Indeed, eyebrows were raised when only three minutes of first-half stoppage time were signalled – but Zambia used the shortened half to their advantage, scoring just before the interval as the previously quiet Mbusema latched on to Katongo’s flick-on before firing a low drive past substitute keeper Zerihun Tadele.

Zambia should have used their twin advantage to push on in the second half, but they eased off and allowed Ethiopia to launch waves of attacks, albeit without truly threatening Mweene’s goal. Zambia, meanwhile, were toiling, with Mbesuma looking like he was content with the one goal, and strike partner Katongo barely interested.

So the Walya Antelopes, working exceptionally hard to cover their disadvantage, were fully deserving of their equaliser when it came.

Midfielder Addis Hintsa was brought into play on 64 minutes; within seconds, he had initiated the move that saw Girma fire a rasping finish in off the near post after a cute pass from Said left Lungu ball-watching.

Zambia awoke from their slumber as Mulenga sent a free header over, while Tadele saved well from Mulenga after the Utrecht forward had been brought on.

Southampton forward Emmanuel Mayuka also came on for the final minutes, the former Basel man impressing with his pace and directness, but his team-mates were still off the pace as they failed to claim a winner.

The second Group C match sees two-times winners Nigeria face Burkina Faso at 6pm UK time.

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