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.
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.
Hulk #10 of Shanghai SIPG competes for the ball with Shintaro Kurumaya #7 of Kawasaki Frontale during the match. /VCG Photo
"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.
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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 FC.
Lee Dong-gook (C) netted his 37th AFC Champions League (ACL) goal in Jeonbuk's 3-1 win over Beijing. /VCG Photo
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 equalized 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 the 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.
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