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Can the US pull off another upset?

After an unlikely win against Spain, US soccer faces another superpower: Brazil.

Will they still be celebrating Sunday? Here, Jozy Altidore (L) of the U.S. celebrates with teammate Charlie Davies (R) after scoring during their Confederations Cup semi-final soccer match against Spain, June 24, 2009. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

BOSTON — It is little remembered, except by hockey buffs and sports trivia enthusiasts, that after the “Miracle on Ice” — the U.S. upset of the Soviet Union hockey juggernaut at the 1980 Olympics — the Americans still had to win another game to secure the gold medal. Had the U.S. team not beaten Finland, that miracle would have had all the lasting power of slush.

The American soccer team is in a slightly different position in the Confederations Cup after Thursday’s 2-0 victory — the “miracle on turf,” the New York Times proclaimed — over Spain, the No. 1-ranked team in the world, unbeaten in 35 games since the fall of 2006.

The victory, just like the hockey team’s almost 30 years ago, only propelled the U.S. to the Sunday finals. This time, however, it will require a second equally unlikely miracle for the Yanks to beat soccer superpower Brazil and walk off the field with the gold medal.

While the American coach and players would never admit to being thrilled with a silver medal, American soccer fans are delirious with the turn of events at this tournament in South Africa, a trial run for World Cup 2010, which will be held there next June. After its two opening games — weak, in a 3-1 loss to Italy, and weaker, in a 3-0 loss to Brazil — the U.S. team appeared ticketed home after one final game last weekend.

Some writers — I see one of them every day in the mirror — suggested that the U.S. team appeared so inept that it might not even earn a return trip to South Africa next year. The phone rang off the hook at U.S. Soccer headquarters in Chicago, with angry callers demanding the dismissal of American coach Bob Bradley. (Some writers, like the New York Times’ George Vecsey, consider the hue and cry here over soccer results to be a healthy development — reflecting America’s growing passion for, as well as coming of age in, the game.)

The ax was unlikely to fall on the coach. But before it might even be considered, the U.S. team scored an improbable parlay — a 3-0 victory over Egypt combined with Italy’s 3-0 loss to Brazil — to advance to the semi-finals (on a tiebreaker) and to the apparent mismatch with Spain. And now with Spain dispatched, it’s on to the finals against Brazil, perhaps the most unlikely tournament rematch in soccer history.