The stadium was losing its mind, a yellow explosion smothering the country. The team in yellow, with only 10 men, were holding the African champions, tearing them apart at times, and the excitement was palpable.
Yet this was not the golden sheen of Bafana Bafana, hosts of this Africa Cup of Nations, that was causing such delirium in Nelspruit. Instead it was the unfancied Ethiopia enjoying frenzied support and responding with a sublimely skilful performance.
After the unbelievably dull opening match between Bafana and Cape Verde at the National Stadium, the Africa Cup of Nations took off over the last few days, first with the DR Congo’s 2-2 draw with Ghana, and then with this pulsating clash between Zambia and Ethiopia. On both occasions the underdog came back to bite venomously.
Five draws in the first six games of this tournament provide some concrete evidence that the gap between sides in the continental game is getting thinner by the second.
Ethiopia at times shredded Zambia, with striker Saladin Said sizzling and attacking midfielder Minyahile Teshome full of tricks and flicks. Only Kennedy Mweene’s continued penalty-saving heroics denied Said the lead, while the only time Bafana fans could have wished they were not in Ethiopia’s shoes came when goalkeeper Jemal Tassew was sent off, and an unseemly bout of missile-throwing erupted in the stands.
That was replaced by delirious mayhem as Ethiopia captain Adane Girma found a second half equaliser.
Bafana were held by Ethiopia in a World Cup 2014 qualifier in Rustenburg in June last year.
Looking at what Bafana did against Cape Verde, and what Ethiopia did against Zambia, I can only see a hammering for South Africa when they visit Addis Ababa for the return qualifier in June.
Of all the teams I have seen perform in the Africa Cup of Nations thus far, Bafana have been by far the worst. They look disjointed and need a miraculous turnaround in quality against Angola this afternoon to reignite any sort of belief.
It is hard to place too much blame on Gordon Igesund. I just do not believe the players in this country are good enough. Even the blindly optimistic Igesund had to admit that his side had not been up to it against Cape Verde.
Angola’s goalless draw with Morocco at least left Group A back on level ground. The problem is that Bafana look, to borrow from Jules Verne, about 20000 footballing leagues under the sea.