Football: Hulk-powered Zenit win at Valencia

Zenit's Hulk (right) celebrates after scoring for his team during the Champions League Group H football match.
Zenit's Hulk (right) celebrates after scoring for his team during the Champions League Group H football match. PHOTO: EPA

VALENCIA (AFP) - Two stunning strikes from Brazilian international Hulk guided Zenit St Petersburg to a 3-2 win at Valencia on Wednesday despite a spirited fightback by the Spanish side.

Hulk thumped home two powerful efforts to give the Russians a 2-0 half-time lead before Joao Cancelo and Andre Gomes hauled Valencia level after the break.

However, the home side's good work was undone when Axel Witsel struck the winner moments later to give Andres Villas-Boas's men the perfect start in Group H.

Zenit lead Gent and Lyon by two points after the Belgians salvaged a point with nine men in a 1-1 draw in the other match in the group.

"There was one team that went to attack from the first minute and that was us," said Valencia boss Nuno Espirito Santo.

"We were dominant, created a lot and played with both our heart and head.

"We weren't surprised because we knew Zenit had those characteristics, but they had three shots and scored three goals. Football is like that, they were clinical and we weren't." Valencia had started the stronger as a Cancelo drive from distance deceived Yuri Lodygin and came back off the post.

However, the hosts were stung after just seven minutes by a flowing counter-attack from the Russian champions as Hulk received the ball on his favoured left foot and arrowed a shot into the far corner.

Valencia were dominant throughout with over 60 percent possession and 15 attempts on goal, but couldn't find a way through in the first-half.

And the hosts were left frustrated when Scottish referee Craig Thomson turned down a strong penalty appeal for a handball by Javi Garcia.

Zenit then doubled their advantage in spectacular fashion just before half-time when Hulk took aim from 25 yards and thumped the ball past the helpless Jaume Domenech.

Nuno made a double substitution at the break as Paco Alcacer and Gomes were introduced and both made their presence felt as the hosts roared back in the second-half.

Alcacer had a goal narrowly ruled out for offside before Cancelo did half the arrears with an intelligent hit from a narrow angle which caught Lodygin by surprise.

Gomes pulled a volley wide from the edge of the area as the pressure from Valencia continued to build.

And the Portuguese midfielder then levelled 17 minutes from time with a neat turn and shot that Lodygin should have made a better fist of keeping out.

Yet, just when it seemed Valencia were in pole position to complete a famous comeback, Zenit struck the winner as Witsel was left unmarked on the edge of the area and his low drive found the net via the inside of the far post.