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.