Hulk was hailed by his manager as “one of the best players in Asia” after he buried a late penalty to give Shanghai SIPG a 1-0 victory over Kawasaki Frontale in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday (Mar 6).
In a tight battle between the champions of China and Japan, the burly Brazilian forward was the difference to give the hosts all three points in their Group H opener.
Hulk, who barely featured for Kawasaki during a spell there in 2005-2008, held his nerve to score from the spot in the 89th minute after midfielder Hidemasa Morita handled in the box.
The 32-year-old had a night to forget up until then, somehow missing from close range and firing wide in the second half following a mazy run into the visitors’ box.
“For sure Hulk is one of the best players in Asia, for sure,” SIPG coach Vitor Pereira said of his captain and talisman.
“I am a lucky man to have top players playing in my team, helping the team, but what is important is not only the technical level, it is the personality.
“I am a lucky man because I have players – foreign and Chinese – with personality, with good spirit, team spirit, and this is the way to win,” added the Portuguese.
Hulk, signed by SIPG from Zenit St Petersburg in July 2016 for about €56 million, said the Chinese champions – who also have the €60-million Oscar – were defending for long periods.
“I was trying my best to keep going to the end,” he said, adding: “For me, I want to help the team more, not just scoring.”
In the other match in Group H, Sydney FC and 2012 champions Ulsan played out a windswept goalless draw, leaving Shanghai in early command.
Veteran goal machine Lee Dong-gook rolled back the years as Jeonbuk Motors got their campaign off to a winning start with a 3-1 home victory over Beijing Guoan.
The 39-year-old scored his side’s second goal and set up the third in a vintage display at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
The 2006 and 2016 Asian champions went ahead in the 14th minute when Han Kyo-won took advantage of sloppy defending by Beijing’s new signing from Jeonbuk, Kim Min-jae, to open the scoring.
Beijing equalised four minutes before half-time via Zhang Xizhe’s smart finish.
But Jeonbuk went back in front three minutes after half-time when Lee pounced to extend his record as the all-time AFC Champions League goalscorer to 37 goals.
The ageless Lee with a little more luck could have bagged a quick-fire hat-trick.
Lee was the provider in the 71st minute, his cross enabling Kim Shin-wook to head home powerfully to seal victory.
In the other Group G clash, Urawa Red Diamonds also began with a comfortable win, 3-0 at home to Thailand’s Buriram United.
Daiki Hashioka hit a brace for the Japanese side.