In a turning of the tables, it was Manchester United not Olympiakos who qualified for the UEFA Champions League quarter final Wednesday night.
From the first minute to the last, it was Manchester United commanding the pitch of Old Trafford. Talismanic Robin van Persie’s hat-trick salvaged their Champions League dream against Olympiakos, to book their berth in the final eight.
Heading into the second leg, Manchester United were down 2-0 on aggregate, while huge pressure was on the shoulders of manager David Moyes to prove his worth and make the fans believe in him. But it was the Dutch frontman Van Persie, who has been “absent” for so long for United in front of the net, who helped to avoid the Greek tragedy and put Manchester United back on Europe’s map of elite teams, at least for the time being.
In recent days, penalties have become a familiar sight at Old Trafford. United conceded three in the weekend Premier League mauling by Liverpool. And after a foul by Jose Holebas in the 25th minute, Van Persie put the hosts ahead from 12 yards when he scored from the penalty kick.
To level the tie on the aggregate, the Netherlands’ striker doubled his tally on the half time mark with a sleek pass from Manchester United’s future captain Wayne Rooney. Then in the second half, Van Persie curled home a splendid free-kick to seal the win.
Olympiakos have now lost in all 12 of their visits to England, conceding an average of three goals per game. Meanwhile, the result puts Manchester United into the last eight for the first time since 2011. This certainly proves that no matter how strong and unbeatable the Greek giants remain, they still have a lot to analyze and raise their playing standards to be at par with the Europe’s elite.
Moyes made a few key changes to his side that lost 3-0 on Sunday against their arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, bringing Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand into an experienced starting XI.
Visiting goalkeeper Roberto was first challenged by Wayne Rooney, with the Spanish shot-stopper electing to punch Rooney’s free kick out of the box. Rooney later went agonizingly close when he headed against the left hand post from Giggs’ cross, with replays suggest that Roberto might had got the slightest touch on the ball.
But it was the penalty that helped break the deadlock after Robin van Persie was recklessly bundled to the ground from behind by Holebas.
Patrice Evra later made a superb effort with his header from Van Persie’s corner that forced Roberto to dive full stretch to save the goal just ten minutes before the break.
David De Gea, meanwhile, was on top form, making a couple of saves for the English side. His sharpness and presence of mind was put to the test when he made a crucial double save, first denying David Fuster’s header and then recovering well to keep out Alejandro Dominguez’s effort from a close range by sliding and kicking the ball away.
With Olympiakos needing only a single away goal for the victory, the delicate nature of the score-line was emphasized when Fuster’s rifled effort straight at De Gea in the 67th minute worried many Manchester United supporters. But United weathered a late storm to cling on to an important victory.
One of the most memorable moments of the match was the knock that Antonio Valencia received early in the first half, which resulted in a huge bump above his left eye. The winger showed his passion for United but continuing to play despite the fact that his vision must have been impeded.
Manchester United fans across the globe finally had something to cheer after fighting back against all the odds to win 3-0 on the night. The only sour note was the injury to Robin van Persie, who was stretchered off the pitch. But in his post-match interview, Moyes downplayed the injury and said it wasn’t as bad as first feared.
This match in particular has put forward a lot of questions and answers in the minds of people:
1. Should David Moyes be sacked or should he now be given more time?
2. What are the tactics and reasons of failure for Manchester United in the Premier League?
3. Should Ryan Giggs call it time or he has something last yet to offer as a player?
4. Will Olympiakos ever be able to challenge and win against the tough sides, or are they just happy being the kings of Greece?