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BRUGES, Belgium (AP) — Wayne Rooney ended a 10-game scoring drought by grabbing a hat trick in Manchester United's 4-0 win at Bruges that eased the English team into the Champions League group stage on Wednesday.
United won 7-1 on aggregate and returned to Europe's premier competition after a one-year absence.
Rooney's confidence grew after putting United ahead in Belgium in the 20th with a lobbed finish over the diving goalkeeper, his first club goal since April 4. The England captain added more goals in the 49th and 57th minutes as Bruges' defense was repeatedly opened up.
Rooney wasted a great chance for his fourth goal before Ander Herrera wrapped up the win in the 63rd. Javier Hernandez missed a penalty in the 81st to make it 5-0 after being handed the chance by Rooney, United's usual penalty taker.
England will have four teams in Thursday's group-stage draw.
"It was a big disappointment last year not to challenge in (the Champions League)," Rooney said. "It was vital we went through any way we could."
Rooney's scoring form has been the biggest concern for United at the start of this season, although he insisted it was only a matter of time before he got back among the goals.
"If I didn't have a strong character, maybe it would have affected me," Rooney said.
When he was put through by Memphis Depay midway through the first half, it was the first genuine one-on-one chance Rooney had found himself in all season. And he took it well.
As Sinan Bolat dived at the feet of Rooney, the striker nonchalantly dinked the ball over the Turkish goalkeeper and into the net to end a wait of 878 minutes for a goal. After celebrating with teammates, Rooney kissed his hands and thrust his arms into the air.
With Bruges now needing three goals just to force extra time, the hosts were going to leave spaces at the back for United to exploit.
Depay — a scorer of two classy goals in the first leg — wasted a great chance before halftime and it was left to Rooney to finish the hosts off.
The striker finished a great team move involving Depay and Herrera with a simple sidefooted finish for his second goal, and completed his hat trick with a low shot underneath Bolat after a reverse pass from Juan Mata.
Rooney passed up two chances to complete a four-goal haul. First, he saw Bolat tip aside a chipped finish after racing through one on one and then handed penalty-taking duties to substitute Hernandez after Oscar Duarte handled a cross from Rooney.
Hernandez's standing foot slipped as he was about to strike the ball and he sent it wide of the post.
By that time, Herrera had ran onto a fine pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger, another substitute, to slot home for the fourth goal at Jan Breydelstadion.