MADRID (Reuters) – A fired-up Atletico Madrid swept into the Champions League last 16 with a game to spare when Mario Mandzukic netted a hat-trick in a crushing 4-0 win at home to Olympiakos Piraeus in Group A on Wednesday.
Last season’s beaten finalists secured a fourth straight victory since falling 3-2 to the Greek side in their opening game in September and have 12 points from five matches, three ahead of second-placed Juventus, who won 2-0 at Malmo.
After a typically intense start from the Spanish champions, Raul Garcia struck in the ninth minute following a howler from Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto and another defensive error, this time from Roberto’s Spanish compatriot Alberto Botia, let in Mandzukic to tap home seven minutes before the break.
The Croatia forward made it 3-0 in the 62nd minute when he nodded in an Arda Turan cross and he completed his treble with another header from Gabi’s free kick three minutes later as Atletico progressed from the group stage of Europe’s elite competition in two consecutive seasons for the first time.
“The most important thing is that we keep on winning and keep on playing well,” Garcia said in a television interview.
“It is always more difficult at the start of the season but we have kept working hard and we are getting better and better with every game,” added the Spain midfielder.
Atletico roared out of the blocks at the Calderon and Garcia and Mandzukic both went close before the opener, which came after Roberto, a former Atletico youth player, passed the ball
straight to Juanfran on the right of the penalty area.
The Spain fullback sent a low cross back into the danger area and Garcia was on hand at the near post to clip a shot high into the net.