(Reuters) - Hulk missed a penalty but scored the equalizer as Zenit St Petersburg secured a 1-1 home draw against Porto on Wednesday to stay favorites for the runners-up spot in Champions League Group G.
The Brazilian dented his former club’s hopes as Zenit moved on to five points with two matches remaining, one above the Portuguese champions, who are third.
Porto captain Lucho Gonzalez opened the scoring with a fine header after 23 minutes before burly forward Hulk punished lax defending to level.
Helton saved a Hulk penalty in the second half, awarded for a Nicolas Otamendi handball.
Leaders Atletico Madrid host bottom side Austria Vienna later on Wednesday.
“The result leaves a bitter taste because of our good first half. We had come here to get a win,” UEFA man-of-the match Gonzalez told Portuguese television Sport TV. “But, mathematically, we still have a chance to go through.”
The visitors saw more of the ball early on and drew first blood as Zenit seemed happy to sit back and try to catch Porto on the break.
The 32-year-old Lucho, playing his ninth Champions League campaign, made his experience count, applying a textbook header from a pinpoint Danilo cross that bounced off the ground and into the bottom corner.
The Portuguese champions were held to a disappointing draw by Belenenses in the championship over the weekend and have been criticized by their fans for inconsistent performances and giving away soft goals.
Those voices are certain to be heard again as they gifted Zenit the leveler with hesitant defending.
Brazil’s Hulk caught two defenders and keeper Helton napping, pouncing on a seemingly harmless ball to score his second goal of the competition.
But Porto coach Paulo Fonseca remained optimistic.
“I think we were better than them over the two matches despite the defeat and the draw,” he said.
“We played a great first half, at times had 69 percent of possession and finished the game with 22 shots on goal.”
Hulk, who spent four seasons at Porto, downplayed his celebrations out of respect for his former club but he wasted a penalty with a tame shot after 52 minutes.
“I scored an important goal but I did not celebrate because Porto and that whole city is in my heart. I could have taken that penalty better though,” Hulk said.
Zenit keeper Yuri Lodyg saved fierce shots from Porto forwards Jackson Martinez and Silvestre Varela and the Russians champions were wasteful.
Substitute Andrey Arshavin forced Helton go down to his feet to parry a close-range shot after a neat flowing move.
Hulk thought he had a strong case for another penalty but his appeals were waved away by the referee.
“Arshavin came in strong and we had a few chances later on but this was a positive result in the end,” said Hulk.
Writing by Daniel Alvarenga, editing by Mark Meadows