Hulk powers Shanghai SIPG to ACL R16 win over Jiangsu Suning
Hulk was the difference as Shanghai SIPG came back a goal behind to claim a narrow advantage with a 2-1 first leg win in their all-Chinese Super League (CSL) meeting with Jiangsu Suning in the AFC Champions League (ACL) on Wednesday evening.
The burly Brazilian scored from the penalty spot and set up Odil Ahmedov to score the winner. That was after Roger Martinez had given Jiangsu an early lead on a day that also saw former champions Urawa Red Diamonds lose 2-0 to South Korea's Jeju United.
Shanghai, currently second in the CSL standings, went into the game as favourites against a Jiangsu side who have struggled domestically to sit bottom of the standings at home.
But Choi Yong-soo's team started strongly and, within nine minutes, the club from Nanjing had taken the lead. Martinez harried Cai Huikang into a mistake before slotting the ball calmly into the bottom corner.
SIPG endured a difficult opening 30 minutes, with Hulk in particular, cutting a particularly frustrated figure. Yet, in the 31st minute the former Porto forward was brought down in the area by Li Ang, and the referee had no option but to point at the spot.
Hulk's penalty was far from convincing, with goalkeeper Zhang Sipeng narrowly failing to keep the ball from crossing the line.
The goal released some of the pressure on SIPG and it came as little surprise when Andre Villas-Boas' team claimed a second in the dying seconds of the half. Hulk teased the Jiangsu defence before bursting towards the bye-line and clipping in a head-high cross that Ahmedov nodded home.
That goal took the wind out of Jiangsu's sails. But, try as they might, SIPG were unable to claim a third, leaving the tie finely poised ahead of the second leg in Nanjing next Wednesday.
Urawa Red Diamonds, meanwhile, will be hoping for a better performance in front of their own fans next week after being handed a surprise 2-0 defeat by Jeju United in South Korea.
Urawa, champions in 2007, slipped behind to an early header from Marcelo Toscano in the seventh minute before wasting a string of chances in the second half.
Those came back to haunt Mihailo Petrovic's side as Jeju claimed a second on the break in added time through Jin Sung-wook that could have a major impact in determining which team advances to the quarterfinals.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch