AFCON: Zambia 1 Ethiopia 1
Ethiopia had goalkeeper Jemal Tessaw sent off ten minutes before the break on Monday for a harsh tackle and suffered more misery by conceding a goal on the stroke of half-time through Collins Mbesuma's well-taken strike.
However, Adane Girma equalised with 25 minutes to play as the two teams shared the spoils in a result that will leave the Zambia, affectionately nicknamed 'Chipolopolo', disappointed.
The tournament's defending champions settled quickly at the 41,000 seater Mbombela Stadium, and instantly curved out the first chance of the game through Stopilla Sunzu's long-range shot after two minutes, but that failed to trouble Ethiopia custodian Tessaw.
Ethiopia responded with an attack that won a corner two minutes later. Shimelese Bekele took the resulting kick that was firmly dealt with by Chipolopolo goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Sunzu, who has been linked with a move to the English Premier League in the January transfer window, was booked in the 10th minute after a rash challenge on Saladin Said as the champions upped the tempo.
A lapse by Zambia's defenders on the quarter-hour mark gifted Saladin a glorious opportunity, but the lanky forward's flick over Mweene bounced just over the bar.
Herve Renard's charges then had an attack of their own courtesy of a cleverly worked corner, but Christopher Katongo's header failed to trouble Tessaw.
Ethiopia won a penalty midway through the first half after Saladin's trickery proved too much for Chisamba Lungu, who impeded the latter.
However, Saladin placed a tame shot that Mweene gleefully punched back into play to deny the Ethiopians the opening goal.
The contest was turned upside down after Tessaw's tackle on a goal-bound Lungu was adjudged by Gabonese referee E. Otogo to have been dangerous. The custodian was sent off while on a stretcher following treatment that held the game up for close to five minutes.
In response to that decision, the numerous Ethiopian fans in the stadium began booing the referee and throwing objects such as mini flags, vuvuzelas and other small items onto the pitch. The official was forced to wait for the fans to calm down before clearing the edges of the pitch and restarting the match.
The sending off resulted in a forced substitution, with coach Sefnet Bishaw sacrificing midfielder Shimelese Bekele for reserve goalkeeper Zerihun Tadele.
And Zambia took full advantage of Ethiopia playing with one man less by taking the lead on the stroke of half-time through striker Collins Mbesuma's half-volley, which found its way to the bottom corner of the net after an assist from Isaac Chansa.
Ethiopia started the second half strongly in a bid to get back into the game but failed to find a way past Mweene. An incisive one-two inside the Zambia box, coupled with some slack defending, let Adane Girma through on goal, and the Saint Georges striker fired a fierce low shot that found its way into the near post, with Mweene well beaten.
The setback sparked Zambia into a flurry of attacks but Ethiopia held their nerve, and with champions' desperation mounting, the tiring Mbesuma was cautioned for diving with 23 minutes to play.
Herve Renard's charges created the final two opportunities in the duel, with Mbesuma's powerful shot forcing an acrobatic save from Tadele, while Emmanuel Mayuka evaded his marker and managed a cross that flew inches above the off colour Katongo's head.