USA Women's soccer Olympics 2012: Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone et al aim for gold

LONDON-- They say that time heals all wounds.

But one year and 22 days aren't enough to erase the pain of the 2011 World Cup final felt by the United States women's soccer team.

"They snatched our dream," midfielder Megan Rapinoe said of Japan's win over the Americans in Frankfurt, Germany.

The U.S. was three minutes away from the World Cup title. But Homare Sawa tied the score for Japan with three minutes in overtime, just like her teammate Aya Miyama had done with 10 minutes left in regulation.

From there, Japan won 3-1 in a penalty kick shootout.

Photo by Getty Images.

Thursday night in iconic Wembley Stadium, the Americans get another shot at Japan in the Olympic gold medal game.

"It definitely stung. It was pretty heartbreaking," Rapinoe said. "That has been a sense of motivation for this year. It is not a malicious revenge, but we definitely love to come out on top."

This has been a pretty rough Olympics. There were 39 fouls called in the Americans' 4-3 come-from-behind semifinal win over Canada on Monday.

Don't expect anything like that in this gold medal game.

"Teams may use that as tactics because they may not be better than us and it would maybe, in their opinion, even the playing field," said forward Abby Wambach. "The Japanese team is so good, and we are so good that it is about the soccer. You will see beautiful soccer happen. You are going to see some amazing goals scored. And hopefully, people will become legends tomorrow night."

The Americans are 5-0 at these Olympics but had to rally back from a 2-0 deficit against France and then come back three times against Canada.

Japan is 3-0-2 but eliminated Brazil, a finalist in the last two Olympics, in the quarterfinal round.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage will have to mix up her offensive strategy against Japan.

The Americans will play some possession like the Japanese to slow down the game. But they will also have look for scoring chances with weapons like Wambach and forward Alex Morgan. Wambach has five goals here, while Morgan has three.

"Japan has proven themselves. We know their strengths and weaknesses and they know ours. It will be a battle on the field," Morgan said. "We need to bring our best game. It is more about us than them. We are going to worry about the strengths and tactics we need to work on for our team."

The biggest edge the U.S. may have, however, is the sting of what happened last summer.

"We will put our best effort forward. I am excited to be playing Japan again and getting another chance," defender Christie Rampone said.

Added Wambach: "I think the fact that we lost the World Cup and the way in which we did gives us even more passion and desire to go out and perform tomorrow."

Four years ago in Beijing, the gold medal-winning U.S. men's basketball team was labeled the Redeem Team after erasing the disappointment of Athens in 2004.

If the U.S. women can beat Japan for their third straight gold medal, maybe they can be called Redeem Team 2012.

"It is definitely redemption but it is also the opportunity to show the world that we are No. 1 in the world," said midfielder Carli Lloyd, who scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal match against Brazil in Beijing.

"This game will be different from the World Cup game. There will be new challenges. We are different team. Japan is a different team. We are ready to bring it."

Nick Gholson, sports editor of the Wichita Falls Times Record News, is part of the Scripps team covering the London Olympics. Contact him at gholsonn@timesrecordnews.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)

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