NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) — The African Cup of Nations produced all the color, chaos and drama with which it has traditionally been associated on Monday, as well as a couple of surprising results in Group C.
Leading the way was Ethiopia, whose return to the tournament after a 31-year absence drew an estimated 10,000 fans, with busloads of South African-based immigrants flooding into Nelspruit from Johannesburg.
They were rewarded for their support with an unexpected 1-1 draw with defending champion Zambia, but not before they reacted to a red card for goalkeeper Jemal Tassew by throwing vuvuzelas and other debris onto the pitch.
The match was delayed for eight minutes before order was restored, with organizers deploying riot police on the side of the pitch to maintain calm for the remainder of the evening.
The tackle from Tassew was a dangerous one, with the goalkeeper flying into Chisamba Lungu outside the penalty area with his studs up at waist height, yet coach Sewnet Bishaw defended his player.
"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," he said. "The reaction of the fans is normal. They are supporting their boys and they want them to win."
Collins Mbesuma capitalized on Zambia's numerical advantage in first-half injury time, but Ethiopia, whose effervescent striker Saladin Seida had missed a penalty in the 25th minute, regrouped during the break.
With Zambia failing to impose themselves in the second half, coach Herve Renard elected to replace left back Joseph Musonda after 60 minutes with a third striker in the form of Jacob Mulenga, but was left to rue his decision.
Five minutes later Ethiopia attacked down the channel that had previously been protected by Musonga, and Seida's layoff allowed Adane Girma to rifle home the equalizer.
That unleashed a healthier form of bedlam in the Ethiopian-dominated stands, and the Walya Antelope fans were the ones celebrating at the final whistle.
"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."
The second match at the Mbombela Stadium was short on entertainment, but it nevertheless produced late drama when substitute Alain Traore struck in the final seconds of stoppage time to give Burkina Faso a 1-1 draw with two-time champion Nigeria.