Not since 1984 – indeed, 30 years ago this week – had United turned around a two-goal first-leg deficit in Europe. But on Wednesday, in front of a raucous Old Trafford crowd, van Persie’s treble ensured David Moyes’ maiden European voyage remained on course for Lisbon and gave United fans a thrilling night to remember.
But while the Dutchman will deservedly dominate the column inches, David De Gea's stunning double save on 40 minutes – first from David Fuster's bullet header and then Alejandro Dominguez's follow-up at the near post – proved just as pivotal.
Nobody would have blamed the Spaniard had either effort found the net but he saved both brilliantly to preserve the 1-0 lead earned when van Persie had earlier opened the scoring from the penalty spot. Five minutes after De Gea’s double denial, in first-half injury time, RvP swept home Wayne Rooney's cross from close range. United were 2-0 up, level on aggregate and, crucially, in possession of the momentum and confidence that would ultimately carry the Reds to victory.
Van Persie sealed his hat-trick just six minutes into the second period, curling home a free-kick from 25 yards that had Olympiacos goalkeeper Roberto fooled, rooted to the spot.
There were then nervy moments to endure, particularly when De Gea was called into action again at his near post to beat out Dominguez’s blast, but the Reds held on to claim a famous victory.