LONDON (USA TODAY) - Abby Wambach isn't worried about being punched in the face again. Likewise, Carli Lloyd is pretty sure she won't have her head stomped.
In contrast with their physical experiences in five consecutive victories in this tournament, the U.S. women say they know what they'll get from Japan in Thursday's gold medal soccer match.
If not victory, respect.
The teams put their shared admiration on a pedestal Wednesday, spontaneously embracing for a photo opportunity after the news conference for the Japanese team ended.
"Our teams respect each other so much," Wambach said, explaining that inferior opponents have made the U.S. Olympic run a difficult one with dangerous play. "The Japanese team is so good, and we are so good, that it's going to be all about the soccer. And that's what's going to be so awesome about tomorrow night."
The U.S. women will play for gold at sold-out Wembley Stadium, against the team that denied them a World Cup title last summer.
"They snatched our dream," midfielder Megan Rapinoe says.
Adds teammate Lloyd: "It's definitely redemption. But it's also opportunity to show that we're the No. 1 team in the world. This game is going to be different. We're a different team. Japan's a different team, and we're ready to bring it."
Japanese coach Norio Sasaki and three of his players were in a jovial and joking mood Wednesday, discussing their desire to bring gold to a nation still recovering from a earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. He jokingly referred to his players as "goddesses" and said the Americans might have more incentive to win.
"With this idea of revenge, maybe they have a stronger desire to win," Sasaki said through an interpreter. "We ask ourselves, 'How can we have a stronger desire?' "
Sasaki declined to elaborate on how the Japanese planned to counter the U.S. combination of strikers Wambach and Alex Morgan, whose partnership in this tournament has produced eight of the team's 14 goals.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was more open about her team's plans. "Keeping possession is important," Sundhage said. "I think this team is capable of keeping possession and creating big chances. And mix it up by finding the two forwards up top. We also want to be unpredictable. We want to keep possession but also go straight to goal."
Despite winning all five of their Olympic matches, the Americans haven't demonstrated the kind of prowess in the possession game that Sundhage prefers. She has stressed instructions to control the pace with short and safe passes.
Japan was renowned for its possession game in the last World Cup but hasn't been nearly as dominant in these Games. In quarterfinal and semifinal victories vs. Brazil and France, the Japanese were outshot by a combined 48-14.
As Sundhage said last week, "One or two plays can change a game."
It's a notion the Americans seem to embrace. Several in the back and midfield say they often are tempted to chuck the ball up to Wambach and Morgan and watch them go.
"We have the ability to possess and do it well and be dangerous," Rapinoe says, "but when you have someone like Alex and Abby up top, sometimes it's hard to resist."