The striker may not make Brazils squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but he has already racked up four goals in four games this season
The Supercopa do Brasil is one of South Americas newest trophies.
Revived in 2020, 29 years after its second edition, the game brings together the winners of Serie A and the Copa do Brasil in a one-off clash on neutral ground.
Organisers have yet to work all the kinks out in the system, though – certainly if Sundays clash between Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro is anything to go by.
Scores of Flamengo fans – up to 300 by one estimation – were puzzled to discover upon arriving at Cuiabas Arena Pantanal that the tickets they had purchased were in fact in Mineiros sector, and that police and stewards would bar them entry if they wished to do so wearing the Rio clubs distinctive red and black colours.
As a result, many decided to shed their jerseys altogether, leading to generous amounts of skin on display in and around the stadium.
Others opted for a less revealing but rather pricier alternative: buying a complete set of Paris Saint-Germain shirts for the use of each member – an outlay that was ultimately made unnecessary when security authorities finally saw sense and relocated the affected fans to a neutral mixed stand.
On the pitch, too, there was plenty of action in the 2022 season curtain-raiser.
Top of the bill was the battle between two of Brazilian footballs marquee stars: Gabriel Gabigol Barbosa for Flamengo, and veteran Mineiro bruiser Hulk.
Torcedores do #Flamengo compraram ingresso no setor do Atletico-MG estao sendo impedidos de entrar no estadio com a camisa do clube. Ou arruma outra ou ficam barrados @GoalBR pic.twitter.com/aHTRT1NdET
Torcedores do #Flamengo compraram camisas do PSG para entrar no estadio no setor destinado ao Atletico-MG @GoalBR pic.twitter.com/zn3e1g9KFU
The pair were in fantastic form last year and look set to continue in the same vein, both scoring in an entertaining 2-2 draw.
However, it was Hulk that drew the final plaudits, equalising for the Serie A and Copa do Brasil champions with a typically emphatic volley late on, and then netting the winning penalty as Mineiro prevailed 8-7 in a marathon shoot-out, earning their third national title in little over two months.
These are truly heady days for the Belo Horizonte outfit. Prior to 2021, they boasted just two such titles: the 1970 Brasileirao and a single Copa do Brasil triumph in 2014.
A team that has been expensively yet carefully assembled, and which is packed with talent throughout its ranks, was expertly coached to the double last year by Cuca.
Their success looks set to continue under new boss Antonio Mohamed, the fiery Argentine best known for taking Mexicos Monterrey to the Club World Cup in 2019 and his hilarious spat with Liverpools Jurgen Klopp in the semi-final.
Indeed, with the addition of ex-Atletico Madrid and Inter warrior Diego Godin in defence, Mineiro are, if anything, even stronger this time round than in 2021.
However, it is clear that if they are to match their achievements of the past 12 months, and in particular mount a fresh challenge for the coveted Copa Libertadores, they will be looking especially to Hulk, the proud owner of a new Kia SUV thanks to his man-of-the-match Supercopa performance.
“Hes a little boy, a kid, he wants to play with the ball all the time,” Mohamed explained to Ole prior to the final. “He is never angry. He works as much as the best of them, because he also has to sweat out a lot to keep all that muscle.
“Sometimes we lower the intensity and I say to him, OK, Hulk, were going down a bit, tomorrow well get back, because were playing on Saturday.
“But he would want to keep going that Thursday and put the work in. He really is spectacular, his team-mates love him.
“Hes the first one here in training, to put his head down when hes told something, he doesnt shout, hes tremendously humble.”
Whatever criticisms were lain at the door of the ex-Porto attacker over his years in Europe and with the Selecao, a lack of commitment was never one of them.
Even at 35, and beyond that towering physique, Hulks fitness remains exemplary – an aspect of his game which allows him to keep running the hard yards and pushing forward for 90 minutes.
As he showed on Sunday, he has also lost none of his touch in front of goal.
His record for the season to date now reads four goals in as many games, including another three in the Mineirao state championship his club are looking to win for the third straight year.
At this rate, there is no reason to doubt that he cannot approach the tally he achieved in 2021: 36 goals in all competitions, including a competition-leading 19 in Serie A, accrued over no less than 68 games – further evidence of how crucial his endurance is playing in one of world footballs most exhausting calendars.
Unfortunately for his many admirers across the globe, even those heroics are unlikely to be enough to send him to Qatar.
Hulk did earn an emergency call-up from Brazil coach Tite in 2021 but the sheer embarrassment of riches the Selecao boast in attack means that, save for some unprecedented selection crisis, securing a place in their final 23-man squad appears an impossible dream.
Brazils loss, then, is undoubtedly Mineiros gain.
With their star striker on top form and a stellar supporting cast, the Galo will be serious contenders in every competition they dispute over the coming months, including the Libertadores, where Flamengo, holders Palmeiras and Julian Alvarez-inspired River Plate stand out as potential rivals for glory.