The Africa Cup of Nations 2023 has been nothing short of a footballing spectacle, with interesting matches, surprising outcomes, and a storyline that now sees two West African powerhouses, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, set to clash in the final, and before I forget, the level of refereeing has been nothing short of outstanding. Sunday's showdown between the two football giants not only underscores the resilience both teams have shown to be just 90 minutes (and, or plus extra time, in case) away from the big prize, but also reflects the broader trend of African football. ALSO READ: Kessie optimistic revitalized Côte d'Ivoire can win AFCON The journey to the final for both the Elephants and the Super Eagles has been filled with drama and unpredictability. Particularly Côte d’Ivoire, the host nation, faced the upheaval of sacking their coach, Jean-Louis Gasset, after two defeats and a win in the group stage. They saw their opportunistic effort to get Herve Renard on loan from the France women's team, fall flat. Renard has previously coached the Zambia national team, with whom he won the AFCON 2012; he also won the competition in 2015 with Côte d’Ivoire. Despite the coaching turmoil, and the added scrutiny of nearly missing out, they managed to scrape through as the last team to qualify to the round of 16. They were the fourth-best loser! They then had to rely on late goals against Senegal and Mali in the subsequent matches, showcasing a combination of determination and grit. The crowds have been massive too. Interim coach Emerse Fae has stepped into the spotlight, steering the Elephants through the challenges and guiding them to a spot in the final and a place in the history books. With a chance to claim their third continental silverware, Côte d’Ivoire's resilience is a testament to the unpredictable nature of tournament football, where adversity can sometimes fuel success. On the other side of the story is Nigeria, a team that has displayed remarkable consistency and composure throughout the tournament. The Super Eagles reached the final after a dramatic penalty shootout victory against South Africa, following a 1-1 draw. The significance of two West African teams reaching the final cannot be overstated. It highlights the footballing prowess that has long been associated with the region. The clash between Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria not only promises an intense battle for the AFCON crown but also showcases the depth of talent and competitiveness in West African football compared to the other regions. For this particular tournament, the north has also been found out. ALSO READ: Why are Rwandan clubs turning to West African transfer market? The fact that both teams triumphed over opponents from different regions, with Côte d’Ivoire overcoming DR Congo and Nigeria prevailing against South Africa, reflects their strength and pedigree. South Africa and DR Congo, representing the southern and eastern/central regions respectively, demonstrated their capabilities by reaching the last four, contributing to the overall picture of a truly continental championship. In terms of playing style, the tournament has been a celebration of attacking football. Teams have exhibited bravery, playing without fear, creativity, and a desire to entertain the fans. Teams like Mauritania, Cape Verde, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, have been a joy to watch. The goals have been aplenty, we have seen some late drama, tears of joy and pain in equal measure. Overall, the competition has served us unexpected results that added an element of unpredictability, keeping fans on the edge. Record and history for African coaches The AFCON 2023 has marked a historic moment in the tournament's history, with 14 out of 24 teams being coached by homegrown trainers (you can take that number to 15 if you want to include the hosts' interim coach). This shift, with a majority of teams trusting their own local talent, signals a newfound confidence and belief in the capabilities of African coaches. The 14 (or 15) African coaches leading their respective teams in AFCON 2023 represent a significant increase in the trust placed in local coaches. This trend indicates that national football associations across the continent are recognizing the value of nurturing and developing their own talent. It signifies a departure from the historical reliance on foreign coaches and a step towards a more self-reliant approach. This is what African football has been missing all these years of relying on mostly Europeans, and as a result, suffocating our own talents. If Fae, who comes up against Portuguese Jose Peseiro (Nigeria's coach), guides Ivory Coast to success, he could join the esteemed ranks of African coaches who have lifted the AFCON trophy. That exclusive club currently includes Hassan Shehata of Egypt (2006, 2008, 2010), Stephen Keshi of Nigeria (2013), Djamel Belmadi of Algeria (2019), and Aliou Cissé, who led Senegal to the 2021 title. Considering the way Côte d’Ivoire got out of the group and how they have grown into the tournament, you can only bet against the hosts at your peril. That said, the Super Eagles, unbeaten thus far, look like a team on a mission.