Nelspruit - Ethiopia, back at the Africa Cup of Nations after a three-decade absence, overcame a red card to hold champions Zambia to a 1-1 draw in an explosive Group C encounter on Monday.
Ethiopia, one of the founding fathers of African football who had fallen on hard times before enjoying a recent revival, had ‘keeper Jemal Tassew sent off in the first half of a game that also featured a missed penalty and disgruntled vuvuzela-throwing fans.
Collins Mbesuma scored for Zambia in first-half stoppage-time after Tassew had been red carded for a dangerous foul on Chisamba Lungu and captain Adane Girma equalised midway through the second half for Ethiopia.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Ethiopia v Zambia
"I'm happy as we missed a penalty and drew. This is our first experience after 31 years so, as you see, it was fantastic for our football," said Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw.
"The players have shown their characters, and shown the rest of the world they can play football.
"The goalkeeper also has to defend, he went to defend the ball, and shouldn't have been red carded."
Zambia coach Herve Renard said: "First of all I would like to congratulate Ethiopia for a very good performance. I'm not surprised - I said be careful of this team, they are able to play very good football.
"Today, we have to thank our goalkeeper - without Kennedy Mweene it could have been a very, very bad result.
"Our fans expected more than we did today, and they are right. Today, it was the fault of the coach. I did not prepare the team well to start the competition - we'll see how things go after the third game.
"I saw a replay on the screen (of red-card incident) and, for me, he deserved to be sent off."
Zambia featured 10 of the XI that performed heroics in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 12 months ago with out-of-form Nyamba Mulenga the lone absentee.
The 40 000-seat Mbombela Stadium was only a quarter full, with barely a Zambian fan in the sparse albeit colourful crowd, but one that did turn up, a man, was in a bikini.
Against the run of play, Ethiopia almost pinched the lead when Said pounced on a poor clearance from defender Joseph Musonda and lobbed onrushing Kennedy Mweene only for the ball to bounce over the crossbar.
Said then won a 23rd-minute penalty when he was felled by Lungu in the box but his spot-kick lacked steel and was kept out by Mweene.
At the other end, drama ensued after a high-velocity clash between Lungu and Tassew, who rushed out from his goal, boots flying.
The Ethiopian ‘keeper came off worse in the reckless assault, lying stricken on the ground for an age before being stretchered off, with Gabonese referee Castane Otogo waving him goodbye, a red card in his hand.
This incensed the Ethiopian fans, who pelted the pitch with vuvuzelas and water bottles.
To add to the tension, a South African fighter jet chose that moment to scream low over the stadium, as Zerihun Tadele entered the fray to replace Tassew.
Zambia went in front when Mbesuma ran on to Isaac Chansa's headed pass to shoot left-footed past Tadele with the Ethiopian defence at fault.
This provoked another angry volley of vuvuzelas, cutting short the Zambian players' celebrations and prompting the arrival on the touchline of riot police.
With their numerical advantage, Zambia emerged for the second half eager to put the game to bed.
But Ethiopia had other plans.
On 65 minutes, Addis Hintsa, seconds after coming on for Getaneh Kebede, picked out Said who, in turn, found Adane Girma with the captain slotting an angled close-range shot past Mweene.
A frantic climax failed to change the deadlock, with Tadele producing a good save to deny a late shot from Mbesuma.