Manchester United are through to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, though only by the skin of their teeth. Robin van Persie was their hero on Wednesday night, scoring a hat trick to help his side overcome a two-goal deficit against Olympiacos. The Red Devils won 3-0 on the night, giving them a 3-2 aggregate victory for the tie.
The pace of the match was breakneck early on, with both teams winning free kicks in dangerous areas, though nothing came of them. There were also a handful of nasty challenges, mostly coming from Olympiacos, including an accidental headbutt that led to Antonio Valencia's eye swelling shut.
It wasn't clear who was going to score first during the opening 20 minutes, and both teams missed golden chances before van Persie's opener. Hernan Perez hit a brilliant opportunity from 10 yards over the bar after Joel Campbell found him centrally and Wayne Rooney just missed on a chance of his own, striking the post with a header in the 18th minute.
Van Persie's opener came off a penalty, conceded in the 23rd minute by Olympiacos fullback Jose Holebas. The Greek international barged into van Persie's back while the Dutchman was trying to bring the ball out of the air, leading the referee to point to the spot, and van Persie converted to bring United back into the tie.
Olympiacos nearly scored on back-to-back chances in the 40th minute, but David De Gea came up huge to keep Manchester United within sight of a lead. He made a great stop on a header by David Fuster from eight yards out, then an even better follow-up kick save on Alejandro Dominguez's shot off the rebound.
With the last kick of stoppage time, Olympiacos' advantage was erased, and Manchester United went into the locker room level on aggregate. The entirety of the visitors' back line switched off when Rooney found himself a bit of space down the right hand side of the box, then squared for van Persie, who got in front of his defender and finished from close range.
United wouldn't have to wait much longer to take the lead in the tie. Just six minutes after play resumed, Danny Welbeck drew a foul on Kostas Manolas 20 yards from goal. Rooney ran up to strike on the free kick and dummied, fooling Roberto, who had no chance to save van Persie's hat-trick-completing free kick goal.
After taking the lead, United switched off a bit and started to let Olympiacos take control of the game. However, the visitors didn't seem to know exactly what to do when they were allowed to have the ball and they didn't have the firepower to break through United easily. They kept the pressure on throughout the final half hour of the game, but De Gea never had to make a save anywhere near as difficult as the pair he made 40 minutes in.
Unfortunately for United, the game did not end on a positive note. Van Persie, the night's hero, was stretchered off the pitch in stoppage time.
Manchester United: De Gea, Evra, Jones, Ferdinand, Rafael, Giggs, Carrick, Welbeck (Fletcher 82'), Rooney, Valencia (Young 77'), van Persie (Fellaini 90')
Goals: van Persie (pen 24', 45', 51')
Olympiacos: Roberto, Holebas, Manolas, Marcano, Salino (Machado 74'), Maniatis, N'Dinga, Dominguez, Fuster (Vergos 82'), Campbell, Perez (Valdez 57')