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When Canada badly needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, Janine Beckie dutifully stepped up by scoring a brace to guide her team to a vital 2-1 win over Chile on Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics.
Canada (1-1-0) will now play Great Britain (2-0-0) on July 27 in Kashima to determine first place in Group E, and only needs a draw to advance to the quarter-finals.
It was far from a dominant performance against Chile by a Canadian side that was coming off a lacklustre 1-1 draw vs. Japan in their opening match of the competition. But that mattered very little to Canada's goal-scoring hero on the day.
"We came here to win. To be able to help by scoring two goals makes me happy. A win's a win," Beckie bluntly stated in the post-match press conference.
Christine Sinclair received some rough treatment from the South Americans, as she was routinely kicked and fouled, including having the back of her calf stomped on by a Chilean defender early in the first half. The iconic Canadian captain crumpled to the ground in a heap before eventually getting up and playing on, but it was clear she was hurting, and the attack suffered for it. With Canada's main offensive threat hobbled, the burning question became who would provide the goals?
It turned out to be Beckie, who raised her tally for Canada to 33 goals in 77 appearances dating back to her international debut in 2015.
WATCH | Beckie tallies opening goal vs. Chile:
Beyond the goals Beckie provided, this was a display of grit and courage from the Canadian forward after she failed to convert from the penalty spot against Chile when she sent goalkeeper Christiane Endler the wrong way but clattered her shot off the post.
It was familiar territory for Beckie. She stepped up to take a crucial penalty, rather than Sinclair, at the 2019 FIFA World Cup in the 69th minute of a knockout game against Sweden that would have tied things up. Instead, she missed, and the Canadians prematurely bowed out of the competition in the round-of-16. A brave Beckie gave a TV interview on the pitch immediately after the match, apologizing for letting the country down as she valiantly fought back tears.
Watching her in that moment, you wondered if she'd ever be able to recover, or if she would let it haunt her for the rest of her days.
We needn't have worried. Rather than recoil, Beckie immediately put the penalty miss against Chile behind her, and had a dangerous touch inside the penalty box just moments later. It was a sign of things to come from the 26-year-old, as she became Canada's main reference point in attack with Sinclair far from her best and unable to exert any substantial influence over the proceedings.
Even before the missed penalty, you could tell this was going to be Beckie's night. She was a driving force up front right from the opening kickoff. She played a lovely give-and-go sequence inside Chile's penalty area with teammate Kadeisha Buchanan that resulted in a picturesque goal, only for it to be waived off due to a handball offence from the centre back.
Beckie wouldn't be denied on this day, though, and she gave Canada the lead just before halftime. Fellow forward Nichelle Prince made a probing run down the right flank and delivered a dangerous cross into the box that Endler ineffectively parried away. Unfortunately for her, the ball landed at the feet of Beckie, and she punished the Chilean goalkeeper's mistake with a ruthless finish from 10 yards out.
The Manchester City forward doubled Canada's advantage just after halftime. She intelligently held up her run before beating Chile's offside trap to latch onto a beautiful defence-splitting pass from Prince before rounding Endler and slotting the ball into an empty net.
WATCH | Beckie gives Canadians a 2-0 lead:
The budding Beckie-Prince partnership offers genuine hope going forward in this tournament that someone besides Sinclair can give Canada's attack a spark.
"Nichelle is a great player; she creates so much on her own with her pace and her power… We have a really good connection," Beckie enthused.
Chile would claw a goal back from the penalty spot, but Beckie's second goal in the 47th minute stood up as the winner. More that, Beckie's two-goal effort served as a reminder of her importance to this team, and how she is a player for the big occasions – she now has five goals across two Olympics, and she up teammate Sophie Schmidt's winning goal in a 1-0 victory over France in the round of 16 at the Rio Games.
Still, Beckie has a point to prove at this tournament. In the immediate aftermath of Canada's World Cup exit two years ago, she was harangued and received a barrage of fierce criticism, and persistent questions as to why she would be trusted in such a pivotal moment ahead of Sinclair. She also arrived in Tokyo in the middle of a barren spell, having scored just once in her previous 11 outings for Canada (notwithstanding the two goals she bagged in a behind-close-doors training match against the Netherlands prior to the Olympics).
When Beckie squandered a few quality scoring opportunities and was largely ineffective in Canada's opening match against Japan, you could hear the chorus of "here we go again" from long-time observers of this Canadian women's team.
But as the veteran forward posted on her Twitter account after Saturday's win, it's all about how you respond.
"It's frustrating to miss a penalty. To be able to put the team up early on in the game would have been ideal. But it happens. I stepped up to take it and I'll continue to step up and take them. To respond [from a less than ideal performance] in the last game and from the penalty miss, it's important to me. My job with this team is to score goals… to be able to reward the team with two goals is great," Beckie told reporters.
WATCH l CBC Sports' The Olympians feature on women's soccer: