ZAMBIA goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene netted a late penalty after Nigeria missed one against him in the first half to rescue the defending champions from defeat at the African Nations Cup on Friday.
The 1-1 draw at the Mbombela Stadium between the two heavyweights in Group C leaves both teams perilously placed without a win but still with a chance to grab a quarter-final place early next week.
"I'm happy with the result because of the circumstances," Zambia coach Herve Renard told reporters.
"Never forget we had Nigeria ahead of us. We are still alive and we are still in a good way to qualify."
Mweene slotted home an 85th-minute spot kick after Emmanuel Mayuka had been tugged down on the edge of the Nigerian area by Ogenyi Onanzi in what looked a harsh decision from Egyptian referee Grisha Ghead.
Nigeria had taken the lead in the 57th minute through Emmanuel Emenike's second of the tournament after John Obi Mikel had won the ball in midfield and played in a decisive pass.
Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike (L) celebrates his goal against Zambia
The champions had the better of the first half exchanges as they pinned back Nigeria, who had Victor Moses in the lineup after injury, but laboured in the second period.
Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi said: "I have no choice but to be happy but my goal was to get three points. Zambia were never going to be easy to play against."
Enyeama rages at "worst ever call"
Nigeria goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama said Egyptian referee Grisha Ghead's decision to award holders Zambia a late penalty in their African Nations Cup match on Friday was "one of the worst calls in the history of football".
Television replays certainly suggested that if Nigerian defender Ogenyi Onazi touched Zambia's Emmanuel Mayaka as he fell, it was unintentional and could well have been outside the penalty area.
"It was the worst decision I have seen live. I don't know what is happening with the officiating," Enyeama fumed.
We had a terrible official in the first game too. But a decision like the one today does not belong in African football, and certainly not in a match of the magnitude of the champions against Nigeria," Enyeama fumed.
"I am really mad about it."
The penalty was the second in the Group C game, the first real clash of the heavyweights in the tournament.
The first was awarded to Nigeria after 25 minutes when Zambian defender Davies Nkausu brought down Ahmed Musa.
Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel, who has scored two FA Cup goals but none in 261 Premier League appearances for club side Chelsea, took a weak penalty, firing against Mweene's post.
Zambia have now given away penalties in their last four Nations Cup finals matches and, in an incredible run of fortune, seen their opponent fail to score on each occasion.
10-man Burkinabe end 17yr drought
Burkina Faso, reduced to 10 men for the last half hour, ended a run of 17 matches and 15 years without an African Nations Cup finals win by beating Ethiopia 4-0 to go top of Group C.
The unfancied west Africans won with two stunning left-foot strikes from Alain Traore and goals from Djakaridja Kone and Jonathan Pitroipa.
They took all three points despite having goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulama sent off for a careless handball outside his penalty area after an hour.
Burkina Faso's Alain Traore (R) is congratulated by teammate Mady Panandetiguiri after scoring a goal against Ethiopia
Burkina Faso have four points from two games, ahead of holders Zambia and Nigeria, who both have two following their earlier 1-1 draw. Ethiopia are bottom with one.
Traore opened the scoring after 34 minutes and hit an unstoppable second 16 minutes from time. Kone slid the ball in after a good move on 79 minutes and Pitroipa struck in stoppage time as Burkina Faso won a finals match for the first time since 1998 when they hosted the event.
The game was disrupted briefly late on when a man ran on to the pitch in his underpants before being intercepted by officials and bundled away.