Pressure on Gucci to find his scoring touch in A-League finals

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The Sydney Morning Herald, SYDNEY, Misfiring Sydney FC striker Reza Ghoochannejhad has been backed to find the scoring touch that seems to have eluded him in the past 12 months as the team’s attention switches to Sunday’s A-League semi-final.

Ghoochannejhad was one of several players who missed clear-cut chances in Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Ulsan Hyundai in South Korea, which has ended their chances of progressing to the AFC Champions League’s knockout phase.

It continues a lean period in front of goal for the 31-year-old former Iranian international, who has scored just once in 15 matches since joining the Sky Blues on loan in January.

Those struggles stretch back to his parent club in Cyprus, APOEL, where ‘Gucci’ hit the back of the net only twice in 15 appearances in all competitions across the first part of this season – weeks after he was excluded from Iran’s final squad for the World Cup in Russia.

Given his pedigree, much more was expected from Ghoochannejhad, a figure who Sydney FC were initially eyeing off as a marquee player this season. His link-up play remains strong but scoring goals is what strikers are paid to do, and with another start quite likely for Sunday’s sudden-death clash with Melbourne Victory, the team needs him to quickly rediscover his killer instinct.

“You would’t know it, if he is down on confidence,” midfielder Brandon O’Neill said. “He’s a very confident guy, always joking and laughing and he works really hard.

“He’s been around the world playing football, he’s been to a World Cup, he’s captained his country – he knows more than anyone with the experience he has.

“It’s one of those things, if a few goals come the floodgates probably will open like you’ve seen with different strikers this year. That’s all he needs. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and we’ll support him as much as we can along the way.”

For the fourth time in five continental matches, the Sky Blues were probably the better side against Ulsan but were duly punished for failing to capitalise on their opportunities in front of goal. It’s a tendency they can’t afford to take into Sunday’s clash against an Ola Toivonen-led Melbourne Victory.

Players will mull over what might have been from the luxury of business class as they fly back to Sydney, with their plane due to touch down on Thursday morning. The travelling squad will link up with skipper Alex Brosque, veteran stopper Alex Wilkinson, marquee Siem de Jong and right-back Rhyan Grant, who were left at home to focus on domestic matters and recuperate from minor injury issues.

O’Neill is confident the team’s cutting edge will return as they renew hostilities with Kevin Muscat’s side, who knocked them out of last year’s finals series at the same stage before going on to win the A-League grand final.

“There’s no real excuses for us, even with the travel – we’ve got a lot of days now to recover, take it easy and prepare for what’s going to be a massive game with a team we know really well,” he said. “We always seem to have a classic against them. It’s one of those games you really, really, really look forward to.”

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