Robin van Persie scored a stunning hat-trick to lift the pressure on David Moyes and send Manchester United through to the Champions League quarter-finals on an epic night of high drama at Old Trafford.
Man Utd win 3-2 on aggregate
Scorer: Manchester Utd - Van Persie (25pen, 45, 52)
Van Persie, who left the pitch on a stretcher late on, converted a first-half penalty and scored on the brink of half-time before he struck the final goal of the 3-0 win with a free kick just after the restart.
The Theatre of Dreams had turned into the scene of Moyes’ worst nightmare on Sunday when United lost 3-0 to Liverpool and questions arose about the manager’s future. But he got everything spot-on against the Greeks last night.
The odds were against the United boss. The last time the Red Devils came back from 2-0 down in the first leg was 30 years ago when Bryan Robson inspired the team to a rousing 3-0 win over a Barcelona side that included Diego Maradona.
Last night it was the turn of another United icon, Ryan Giggs, to boss the game. Moyes’ decision to deploy the 40-year-old in the middle of the park proved to be a masterstroke as he played a key role in the build-up to the first two goals and excelled throughout.
A battered and bloodied Antonio Valencia, who was given a black eye early in the first half, also put on a display that United’s Captain Marvel would have been proud of.
Moyes, who received support from the Old Trafford crowd throughout, including a banner labelling him ‘The Chosen One’, may have endured a terrible domestic season, but his European dream is still alive thanks to this impressive comeback.
The only thing that will worry Moyes is that his hat-trick hero was carried off on a stretcher late on with what looked like a knee injury.
United, knowing only a big win would send them through, went at Olympiakos from the off but they were frustrated by the tenacious visitors, who did everything they could to break play up.
Valencia jumped for the ball with Joel Campbell and ended up with a black eye that left him barely able to see. Moyes looked concerned, but the winger continued after treatment.
Kostas Manolas and Alejandro Dominguez saw yellow for petty fouls while Michael Carrick also entered the book for a foul on Hernan Perez. Giggs showed why he was recalled to the team when he lofted a delicious ball over the top towards Van Persie. Jose Holebas barged over the Dutchman and the referee had no option but to give a penalty.
Van Persie slotted the ball home with 25 minutes on the clock – exactly the same time as when Robson had put United ahead against Barcelona in 1984. Could that be an omen, United fans wondered?
Valencia belted a low shot at goal which almost caught Roberto off guard. The Olympiakos goalkeeper then saved superbly from Patrice Evra as the pressure mounted.
Then, out of the blue, United were under severe pressure. David De Gea saved superbly from Perez and he was back on his feet less than a second later to deny David Fuster.
The double save lifted the crowd and moments later the decibel level inside the stadium rocketed as Van Persie bagged his second of the night. Giggs, once again, played a key role. The Welshman picked out Rooney with a pinpoint pass and the England frontman squared to Van Persie, who tucked away a side-footed finish. Moyes clenched his fists in a rousing celebration.
The Scot knew the job was not complete, though, and joined his players in jogging away down the tunnel at the break.
Five minutes after the restart, United claimed the third goal they needed. Danny Welbeck went down under the faintest of challenges from Manolas but that did not matter to Van Persie as he sized up the free kick.
The striker clipped the ball over the wall and a bamboozled Roberto watched it drift past him. Raucous celebrations ensued, but they soon gave way to a nervous silence as Olympiakos suddenly sprung into life.
Ivan Marcano’s deflected free kick flew a foot wide and Perez missed another good chance, ploughing his low drive straight at De Gea.
The Spaniard saved well again from Dominguez. An injury to Van Persie, who was the victim of a tackle by Giannis Maniatis, meant there were five minutes of added time, but United rode out the storm to make it through to the last eight.
Referee: B Kuipers (Hol)