Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv have been thrown out of this year’s UEFA Champions League over match-fixing claims and will be replaced by PAOK of Greece, UEFA said on Wednesday.
PAOK, who had lost 3-1 on aggregate to Metalist in the third qualifying round, now face Schalke 04 of Germany in a playoff on Wednesday next week and on Aug. 27 to enter the group stage of the competition.
The new tie means PAOK coach Huub Stevens, who steered Schalke to UEFA Cup glory in 1997 during the first of two stints at the club, will be up against the team who sacked him last year.
“It’s great for PAOK that we are now in the playoffs and even more so for me as I’ll be up against Schalke, which is a familiar place for me with many friends and acquaintances,” said Stevens, who coached the Gelsenkirchen side from 1996 until 2002, then from September 2011 until December last year. “Of course, it will be difficult, but we will fight for our chance to go through.”
Schalke general manager Horst Heldt said the Royal Blues’ task will not be any easier against the Greeks, who finished second in last season’s Greek top flight.
“No one has to now think that it will be any easier just because they didn’t qualify directly,” Heldt said.
UEFA said that PAOK, who had been due to drop down into the Europa League, will not be replaced in that competition, meaning their scheduled playoff opponents Maccabi Tel-Aviv of Israel advance directly to the group stage.
“This decision is final,” European soccer’s governing body said, although it acknowledged that Metalist can still appeal the disqualification to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Kharkiv have said they will do just that, with vice president Kostyantyn Pyvovarov telling the Russian news agency Interfax: “We’ve got an appeal ready, because we were prepared for any eventuality. We will fight for the rights of the club and protect them in accordance with all legal requirements.”
UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the Ukrainian club earlier this month after suspicions were raised about matches they were involved in.
Given that qualifying for this year’s competition was already under way, the case was heard directly by UEFA’s appeals tribunal.
“The UEFA Appeals Body carefully analyzed the statements and documents submitted by the club, as well as the statements and documents submitted by the UEFA Disciplinary Inspector and reached the following decision: FC Metalist Kharkiv are disqualified from the 2013/14 UEFA competitions,” UEFA said.