Van Persie hat-trick salvages United's season

Wed Mar 19, 2014 7:06pm EDT
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By Mike Collett

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Robin van Persie's hat-trick lifted the gloom surrounding Manchester United and manager David Moyes as the English side beat Olympiakos Piraeus 3-0 to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit and reach the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.

United, mounting a dismal defense of their Premier League title in Moyes's first campaign since replacing Alex Ferguson, kept alive their last remaining hope of lifting a trophy this season.

Asked to show character by their manager, United responded with Van Persie showing a clinical edge that has been missing of late while the recalled Ryan Giggs was also instrumental on his first start since late January.

Van Persie began the Old Trafford comeback with a 25th-minute penalty, awarded after he had been shoved in the back by Jose Holebas.

The Dutchman leveled the tie on aggregate in first-half stoppage time, steering in Wayne Rooney's cross and Van Persie completed his hat-trick with a free kick six minutes after the break that left Olympiakos keeper Roberto rooted to the spot.

Moyes, who cut a defiant figure this week despite his troubled start, praised a "magnificent team performance".

"There were no passengers tonight, everyone fought their corner and we played some really good football," the Scot told a news conference after United joined Premier League leaders Chelsea as the only English representatives in the last eight.

"It's especially pleasing as we did not play well in the first leg in Greece but came back strongly tonight.   Continued...

Manchester United's Robin van Persie (red) scores his second goal against Olympiakos during their Champions League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble