MAN UNITED 3, OLYMPIACOS 0
(United won 3-2 on aggregate)
Robin van Persie’s brilliant hat trick helped Manchester United stage a great recovery and claim a place in the quarter finals of the Champions League.
The Dutchman almost single handedly destroyed Olympiacos on a night when they overturned a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Athens.
Not since 1984 had United overcome a similar-sized deficit in Europe when they beat a Barcelona side which contained Diego Maradona in a UEFA Cup tie.
This time it was van Persie who turned on the magic scoring his 15th, 16th and 17th goals of the campaign to ease the pressure on United’s under-fire manager David Moyes.
United, whose domestic form has been disappointing, again reserved their best for Europe against opponents who were crowned Greek champions for a 41st time at the weekend.
The one disappointment and dampener was the loss of van Persie through injury in the dying minutes when he left the field on a stretcher after appearing to suffer a knee injury which Moyes is hopeful is not too serious.
United’s manager praised his side saying: “I am very pleased because, after Sunday’s performance and result (3-0 home defeat by Liverpool), we needed to bounce back and did so with style. We played well and deservedly got our victory.
“It was a magnificent team performance and we carried no passengers. They all fought their corner and we played well and some good football. There was a good tempo to our play which we have not seen at Old Trafford in a lot of games this season.”
Moyes also saluted van Persie’s goalscoring exploits continuing: “To score a hat trick in the Champions League is a big thing and only certain players can do it.
“First he got a penalty, Wayne (Rooney) did brilliantly setting up his second and the third was a free kick. He is a top player and deserved it.”
There were also words of praise for 40-year-old Ryan Giggs who received a call into midfield and his passes helped set up two of the goals.
Moyes refused to go overboard reiterating that it is still work in progress and it will take time to get the team as he wants it to be.
There were four changes to the United side from Sunday’s defeat against Liverpool as Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia won starting spots.
The players losing out were the ineligible Juan Mata, Nemanja Vidic, Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj.
Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers had an busy start booking three players in the opening 10 minutes, Olympiacos pair Kostas Manolas and Alejandro Dominguez and United’s Michael Carrick.
Olympiacos almost snatched the lead after quarter of an hour when Joel Campbell cut the ball back to David Fuster who blazed over from six yards when he ought to have hit the target.
United came within inches of halving their two goal first-leg deficit after Wayne Rooney’s header struck the base of the upright following a cross from Giggs.
The breakthrough came midway through the half when van Persie scored from the penalty spot after he was shoved in the back by Jose Holebas.
And they almost scored a second goal not long after when a header from Patrice Evra was superbly saved by keeper Roberto.
Olympiacos nearly drew level on the night after a breakaway ended with David De Gea making a superb double save to deny Fuster and Joel Campbell’s follow-up effort.
United doubled their advantage and made it 2-2 in first half stoppage time when Rooney squared a pass for van Persie to sweep home a low shot from eight yards.
And United took a 3-0 lead five minutes after the restart when van Persie completed his hat trick with a well struck free kick which was awarded after Welbeck was fouled by Manolas 25 yards from goal.
Suddenly Olympiacos had to throw caution to the wind as they needed to score if they were to reach the last eight.
They came out fighting as Hernan Perez headed wide when well placed, Dominguez fired over and Fuster shot straight at De Gea who also saved well from a deflected effort from Dominguez as United had to endure some nervy moments in the latter stages of the game.