MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Robin van Persie ushered Manchester United into the Champions League quarterfinals - and potentially saved his manager’s job - with a hat trick in a 3-0 victory over Olympiakos that completed one of the competition’s greatest comebacks on Wednesday.
On one of the memorable European nights at Old Trafford, Van Persie scored three times in a 27-minute span either side of halftime to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg. A slew of brilliant saves by David de Gea were also key to a famous win for the English champions - and a vital one for their manager, David Moyes.
Moyes‘ position had come under intense scrutiny after United’s humiliating 3-0 loss to fierce rival Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday, the latest in a string of dreadful results in his first season in charge.
An early exit in Europe could have stretched the patience of fans and United’s hierarchy beyond breaking point - but Moyes is left hoping this can be a watershed moment in his United career.
“I don’t want to come out here and say this is the moment,” Moyes said, “but at the same time, I really hope it is.”
A nerve-shredding night ended with Olympiakos captain Giannis Maniatis on his knees and in floods of tears, and Moyes saluting home fans and wearing the broadest grin.
The under-fire United manager was saved by the goal-scoring qualities of Van Persie, who converted a penalty in the 25th minute, side-footed home his second goal in first-half injury time and curled in a free kick in the 52nd. And he also had words of praise for Ryan Giggs, who at the age of 40 delivered a tireless performance in midfield.
“His all-round play was very good,” Moyes said. “He defies his age.”
Olympiakos slumped to its 12th straight away defeat in England and missed out on securing a place in the last eight for the first time since 1999.
The Greek champions had their chances - some of De Gea’s saves were breathtaking - but defensively they were chaotic and they became only the sixth team to squander a two-goal lead from the first leg of a Champions League match.
“We were unlucky,” Olympiakos midfielder David Fuster said, “and we’re pretty upset about it.”
In Wednesday’s other last-16 match, Borussia Dortmund advanced 5-4 on aggregate despite losing the second leg 2-1 at home to Zenit St. Petersburg. The draw for the quarterfinals is held on Friday.
“We probably now will go into it as underdogs,” Moyes said. “If we play to our capabilities, which we have not done too often, then I think we will be a match for any team.”