SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — A former Brazil coach had a simple answer when asked about what striker Hulk adds to the squad: "Strength."
"He gives us more power," Mano Menezes added, with a grin, about the Brazilian nicknamed after the comic book superhero.
Although he is one of the less popular of the current Brazilian stars, he continues to work hard to silence his critics and prove his worth to fans.
The Zenit St. Petersburg player left Brazil early in his career and has little connection with local supporters, but has played well with the national team and is constantly praised by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
"I'm big, I'm strong," said Hulk, who looks more like a rugby player or an NFL fullback. "And I take advantage of this strength when I'm on the field, I use it to help my team."
The 26-year-old Brazilian, whose full name is Givanildo Vieira de Souza, got his superhero nickname when he was a kid growing up in a poor family in northeastern Brazil, and it stuck with him after he started playing football.
"It fits well with how I'm built physically now," he said. "I've always been called Hulk and I like it."
Hulk was with Brazilian club Vitoria when he left to play in Japan when he was 18 years old. He never played for a top club in Brazil and few fans in the country had heard of him when he was first called up to the national team in 2009. He has scored seven goals in nearly 30 matches with Brazil so far.
"I left Brazil very early in my career, so not a lot of people know me here," he said. "It's normal that I get criticized more often, I understand."
Hulk has been hearing from the Brazilian crowd for some time. Every time he makes a mistake, fans have been calling for young midfielder Lucas, who thrived with Sao Paulo before moving to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year. It has happened in nearly every match he has played for the national team in Brazil so far.
"It doesn't bother me, I'll just keep doing my job," he said. "With time they will know more about me and will see that I can help. I have the trust of my coach and of my teammates and that's the most important thing for me."
Scolari has been defending Hulk from the beginning, praising his determination and his tactical commitment with the national team.
"Hulk brings a lot to the Selecao," the coach said. "I can't complain at all. He has been doing everything that we ask him to do and that's important."
Fans chanted Lucas' name again in Brazil's 2-0 win over Mexico on Wednesday in Fortaleza, but the majority of the crowd loudly applauded Hulk when he was substituted near the end of the match.
"It's great to be recognized," he said. "And I hope this is going to continue for a long time. I've always dreamed of playing for the national team and this is what I want to keep doing."
Hulk was a starter for Brazil in the 2012 Olympics in London, when the five-time world champions lost the final to Mexico and failed to win their first gold medal in football.
He played three seasons in Japan before moving to Portugal's FC Porto in 2008. His transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg last year was one of the more expensive for a Brazilian player. He had also been touted to join Chelsea at the time.
Hulk is set to start again when Brazil plays Italy on Saturday in the final Group A match in Salvador. Both teams have already advanced to the next round, but the winner will finish first in the group and will likely avoid a meeting with Spain in the semifinals.
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