By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - The United States wants to avenge their defeat in last year's World Cup final after Japan "snatched away their dream" of glory when the two sides meet again in the Olympic women's soccer final, U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said on Wednesday.
The United States, who have now reached all five finals since women's soccer was introduced to the Games in 1996, are chasing their third successive gold and have all the incentive they need after Japan beat them 3-1 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in Frankfurt last year.
Rapinoe, who has played a crucial role in the U.S. advance to the gold medal match, told reporters at London's Olympic Park: "There's no animosity. I mean they snatched our dream away last year and still we have that respect for them, and I think that's what it is all about."
Abby Wambach, the second highest scorer in U.S. history with 143 international goals, five of them scored during this competition, admitted revenge was in the air.
"Last time, in the World Cup, they got the better of us. I think that this time we hope to change that, we hope to right that ship for ourselves.
"Of course we know them so well and respect them. But I think the fact we lost the World Cup and the way in which we did, gives us even more passion and desire and go out and perform tomorrow."
She added: "I think it is going to be awesome night, that we are going to see some amazing goals scored and hopefully people will become legends."
The women's soccer tournament has captured the imagination of the British public in a way few thought likely at the start of the Games.
Although some seats remained unsold, more than 70,000 watched Britain's group match with Brazil at Wembley - a record crowd for a woman's soccer match anywhere in Britain.
Thursday's match is guaranteed to set a new Olympic attendance record - and another British attendance record - with the crowd estimated at around 83,000.
The previous Olympic record of 76,481 was set when the U.S. beat China in the 1996 Atlanta Games, and midfielder Carli Lloyd said it had been a privilege to play soccer in Britain.
"It has been an honor to play in these historic stadiums, we have loved it and you can never take it for granted," she said.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki admitted he expected the U.S. to be so keen to avenge last year's World Cup final defeat that the Japanese would have to be at their best to beat them.
"Which side has the strongest desire to triumph?" he asked.
"We won the World Cup so it follows our players are very strong, but maybe the idea of avenging the defeat and the power of the U.S. team might mean they have a greater incentive, greater drive.
"So the question for us is, how much stronger is our desire to win than theirs. It is very strong. We are going to have to be at our very best to win, but I believe in my team. I have the highest expectations of them and I am sure they can meet them."
Thursday's final kicks off at 1845GMT after Canada and France, the two beaten semi-finalists meet for the bronze medal at Coventry at 1200GMT.
(editing by Michael Holden)