On an electric night at Old Trafford, Manchester United FC rediscovered that old never-say-die spirit as Robin van Persie's hat-trick earned a famous comeback victory over Olympiacos FC and a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Well beaten in the round of 16 first leg in Piraeus, David Moyes's men overturned that 2-0 deficit thanks to Van Persie's first UEFA Champions League treble. The back-to-form Dutchman opened the scoring from the penalty spot, added a second on the cusp of half-time and then completed the turnaround with a free-kick soon after the restart.
Just when it mattered, United managed to breathe new life into their troubled season, and ease some of the pressure on Moyes. It was 30 years ago this week that they last overcame such a deficit – against FC Barcelona in the European Cup Winners' Cup – and this was an impressive recovery by a team who had suffered a crushing defeat by Liverpool FC only three days earlier.
Here, driven on by the irrepressible Wayne Rooney, they were full of pace and vibrancy, although it was old head Ryan Giggs who stole the show in the first half. On his first start since late January he imposed his enduring class, providing an early cross for Rooney and it took a combination of post and goalkeeper Roberto to keep out the header.
Olympiacos did not sit back but United gradually pushed on and Giggs was the architect of the breakthrough goal in the 25th minute, directing a wonderful pass from just inside the opposition half on to the chest of Van Persie inside the area. Bundled over by José Holebas, Van Persie buried the resulting penalty past Roberto.
United almost had a second goal in the 35th minute when Evra got his head to Van Persie's corner but Roberto thrust out a hand to save. Olympiacos, who celebrated winning the Greek title last weekend, nearly had a goal themselves on 40 minutes as David de Gea denied them with a brilliant double save, using his feet to stop David Fuster's header and then Alejandro Domínguez's follow-up shot.
That proved pivotal as United soon made it 2-0, working the ball right down the pitch to Rooney whose low cross from the right was swept in by Van Persie. Within six minutes of the restart, the comeback – and Van Persie's hat-trick – was complete. After the lively Danny Welbeck was felled on the edge of the box, the Dutchman lifted his set piece over the wall and beyond the flatfooted Roberto.
Míchel's Olympiacos, dreaming of a first quarter-final since 1999, sought a response but De Gea's subsequent saves from Fuster and Domínguez ensured this was United's night.