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Zinedine Zidane's World Cup memories, good and bad, all seem to involve his head.
When the France superstar spurred his team to the trophy on home soil in 1998, both of his goals in the final came courtesy of perfect headers. And when he exited the World Cup stage with tears in his eyes four years ago, an extraordinary head butt on Italy's Marco Materazzi gave his career a dramatic, and tragic, finale.
Now, Zidane will be using his head in a different way – and the United States could be on the receiving end.
Yahoo! Sports has learned that Zidane has finally agreed to operate in an advisory role with Algeria, the underdog North African nation that is one of the USA's World Cup group rivals along with England and Slovenia.
Zidane is of Algerian descent, with both of his parents originally hailing from the Kabylie region by the Mediterranean Sea before emigrating to Paris a few years before their son's birth. The three-time World Footballer of the Year recently refused to comment on initial reports linking him with assisting Algeria in some kind of official coaching capacity, but a source within the Algeria camp confirmed that he will be involved, although not in a traditional sense.
Both Zidane and head coach Rabah Saadane feel that if Zidane was directly involved it could create a media circus that would potentially distract the squad from Algeria's first World Cup appearance since 1986. Instead, Zidane will make visits to the Algerian training base on occasions when the media are not present and offer his advice and suggestions.
Zidane will hold talks, both individually and collectively, with members of the team that the coaching staff hopes will serve as inspiration. Furthermore, he will remain in telephone contact with Saabane and give his views of Algeria's rivals in Group C and their strengths and weaknesses.
However, if Zidane does attend an Algeria game at the World Cup, he will watch the game from the stands, not from the team bench.
Algeria and the U.S. square off in Pretoria in the final group match for both teams on June 23, when qualification for the round of 16 could be on the line. While information on England and Slovenia has been relatively easy to ascertain, preparing for Algeria has posed a great challenge for USA head coach Bob Bradley. He should be thankful for Algeria's run at the African Cup of Nations, where it will face arch nemesis Egypt in Thursday's semifinal.
What Bradley has seen so far is an Algerian team with strong fighting qualities after battling through the group stage following an opening defeat to Malawi. Algeria's quarterfinal triumph over tournament favorite Ivory Coast was a powerful statement of intent.
Bradley, England chief Fabio Capello and Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek have been watching Algeria closely and they will do so again during the Egypt game to find holes in the Algerian technical game plan that can be exploited in South Africa.
Likewise, when those three managers begin their final preparations for the summer with an upcoming series of friendlies, a certain living legend could be lurking in the shadows with notebook in hand, ready to report his findings to the Algerian camp.
Group C watch
England – Frank Lampard has been hailed as the world's best midfielder by his Chelsea boss, Carlo Ancelotti, who backed him to have a huge impact on the World Cup.
Algeria – Captain Yazid Mansouri insisted that recent criticism of the squad had sparked its impressive African Cup of Nations revival.
Slovenia – Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was in outstanding form as Udinese knocked AC Milan out of the Italian Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday in a 1-0 win at the San Siro.
Paraguay striker Salvador Cabanas underwent successful surgery after being shot in the head in a Mexican nightclub and was in stable condition on Wednesday night. However, surgeons have so far been unable to remove the bullet from his head for fear of causing extra damage.
Brazil wing back Felipe is almost certain to miss the World Cup after suffering a horrific freak injury to his ankle while playing for Deportivo La Coruna against Athletic Bilbao.
World Cup numerology
133 – The number of nations providing volunteers to the 2010 World Cup.
The walking wounded (Gooch, Charlie and Deuce)
Oguchi Onyewu – Gooch is making solid progress and could even link up with the U.S. team for training sessions ahead of its friendly against Holland in March. He will need match action late in the season, but he is looking good for South Africa. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 85 percent.
Charlie Davies – There was much excitement this week when Davies insisted he was well on course for the World Cup after a spectacular recovery. Not so fast, though. He still has huge steps in the rehab process that must be completed before he can even think about playing regularly. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 15 percent.
Clint Dempsey – Deuce is rehabbing from his knee problem with English Premier League side Fulham and is on course for a speedy return. USA head coach Bob Bradley has been encouraged by his progress. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.
Put it on your calendar
June 12 – Yes, of course you already knew about the U.S.'s mouthwatering World Cup opener against England. The good news is that the game will be broadcast on network television on ABC, guaranteeing a potentially record-breaking soccer viewing audience.
- Zinedine Zidane