Van Persie hat-trick breaks Olympiakos hearts

By George Georgakopoulos

Olympiakos failed to hold on to its 2-0 lead over Manchester United from the first leg in the Champions League’s round of 16 and lost 3-0 at Old Trafford on Wednesday to bow out of Europe graciously.

The Greek champion will feel hard done by its luck as it produced a string of chances in the ground where it has never managed to score, but its problems at the back and the lack of quality in the finishing touch prevented it from claiming a famous scalp.

It also run into a determined United that tried to salvage something out of this season, and has now advanced to the last eight of the competition thanks to a hat-trick by Robin van Persie, the very man who had predicted after the first leg that United would turn things around in England and win 3-0.

United stormed into the match with a clear resolve to put huge pressure on its visitor.

After hitting the upright in the 18th minute, United got a 23rd-minute penalty that Van Persie earned from a clumsy challenge by Jose Holebas. The Dutchman converted it into the opening goal for the Red Devils, beating Olympiakos keeper Roberto two minutes later.

The key point of the game was the last five minutes of the first half. In the 40th minute Olympiakos missed a double chance to score the equalizer as United goallie David de Gea saved the host on both occasions, and then in injury time Van Persie made it 2-0 from the six-yard box after a cross from the right by Wayne Rooney that the Olympiakos defense could do nothing about.

Six minutes into the second half Van Persie turned a controversial free-kick just outside the box into a stunning goal that had Roberto stranded on his line.

Boosted by its support from over 4,000 Greeks at the stands, Olympiakos put plenty of pressure on the United goal but could not beat De Gea on numerous occasions as the Spanish keeper stood firm when his team needed him.

There were times when United had to resort to desperate defending to keep the result, but eventually it was the Greeks who once again left left empty-handed from the Theater of Dreams.