A sensational Robin van Persie hat trick gave Manchester United a 3-0 win over Olympiakos at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, as the Red Devils secured a stunning comeback victory to make it through to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, United had a mountain to climb but RVP single-handedly cancelled out Olympiakos’ advantage with a penalty kick midway through the first half and then a cool finish right at the interval to make it 2-0. Those goals, especially the second, lifted the roof off of Old Trafford as the home fans believed a remarkable comeback was in the offing.
Five minutes after the break the incredible turnaround was complete, as RVP curled a free kick from 25-yards around the wall to wrong-foot Olympiakos ‘keeper Roberto and put United 3-0 up. Late on Olympiakos pushed for a goal that would’ve put them through on away goals, but United held on to seal a memorable win which sees them advance to the last eight for the first time since they reached the final in 2010-2011.
Manchester United started nervously as Olympiakos whipped in some great crosses from the left that United eventually cleared, as tension began to build early at Old Trafford.
In the 6th minute Rooney had United’s first effort of the game, as his bending free kick was acrobatically punched away by Roberto, then shortly after Robin van Persie had a half chance. After that the game went into a scrappy period as first Kostas Manolas was booked, then Antonio Valencia was involved in a clash of heads with Joel Campbell and when he got up the Ecuadorian was scythed down by Alejandro Dominguez who was also shown a yellow card. Shortly after Michael Carrick also got a yellow, as a real blood and thunder affair played out under the floodlights.
Olympiakos had a gilt-edge chance to go 3-0 ahead on aggregate in the 15th minute, as Joel Campbell bamboozled Phil Jones then pulled the ball back to Perez… but he ballooned his effort over from six yards out. In the 17th minute Rooney then headed towards goal but Olympiakos ‘keeper Roberto tipped the ball onto the post and away to safety.
Then in the 23rd minute United were awarded a penalty, as RVP was nudged in the back by Jose Holebas and referee Björn Kuipers pointed to the spot. Van Persie stepped up and slammed home the penalty kick to put United 1-0 up, as the home fans started to dream of a monumental comeback. Just before the half hour Olympiakos whipped in a dangerous ball from the right which Carrick somehow managed to hook clear from danger, as the away side came back into the match before the interval.
Before the break United pushed to level the score up on aggregate, as Patrice Evra’s header was brilliantly clawed out of the top corner by Roberto. But right on half time RVP scored his and United’s second of the match to send Old Trafford wild. A beautiful chipped ball from Carrick found Rooney, and the Englishman found his strike partner RVP to slot home a cool finish as Old Trafford erupted just with United 2-0 ahead.
It took just six minutes after the interval for RVP to smash in a free kick from the edge of the box to make it 3-0 on the night, giving the Dutchman a hat trick, as the Red Devils were battering Olympiakos and were in front for the first time in the tie. The Greek side tried to regroup but United looked comfortable defensively as a long-range effort from Dominguez flew over the bar. However inevitable tension began to build amongst the home fans as the clock ticked down in Manchester.
Despite pulverizing their opponents, United were stuck in a excruciating stick-or-twist situation as they held off from attacking but invited pressure from Olympiakos. David Fuster has a shot well saved by David De Gea, as Olympiakos chucked the kitchen sink at United in the closing stages with plenty of nervy moments for the home fans to endure.
With Moyes ferociously gesticulating from the technical area and spurring his team on, United sucked all the energy out of the game. However that nouse, coupled with RVP’s sensational display, was enough to seal their passage into the last eight of the Champions League, after a night that will live long in the memory.
Good times are back at Old Trafford, for now.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia (Young, 77′), Carrick, Giggs, Welbeck (Fletcher, 81′); Rooney, van Persie (Fellaini, 89′)
Goals: Van Persie (23′, 45′, 51′)
Olympiakos: Roberto, Maniatis, Holebas, Manolas, Marcano, Leandro Salino (Machado, 74′), N’Dinga, Perez (Valdez, 57′), Fuster (Vergos, 82′), Campbell, Dominguez