GENEVA (AP) – UEFA disqualified Metalist Kharkiv from the Champions League on Wednesday for links to match-fixing in Ukraine and reinstated its previous opponent, PAOK Thessaloniki.
World football's most prized club competition has further legal issues with another team, Fenerbahce, also fighting expulsion over a years-old domestic match-fixing case as it prepares to play Arsenal in the playoffs next week.
Metalist will challenge UEFA's verdict with an urgent appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and can ask for the sanctions to be frozen while the case is processed.
''We regret that such a sanction was applied, and we do not agree with it,'' Metalist first vice president Konstantin Pivovarov said in a statement.
The Ukrainian club had been scheduled to travel to play Schalke next Wednesday in the first leg of the playoff round, after eliminating PAOK 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round last week.
UEFA President Michel Platini led an emergency meeting Wednesday which decided that the Greek club will now go to Germany instead. The return match is on Aug. 27, with the winner advancing to the groups draw in Monaco two days later.
Metalist appears to have ended its debut Champions League campaign unbeaten but in disgrace.
It finished as runner-up last season to title winner Shakhtar Donetsk, breaking Dynamo Kiev's lock on the second entry allocated to Ukraine in the elite competition.
''Metalist has won the right to participate in the 2013-14 Champions League in a fair fight,'' Pivovarov said.
UEFA charged Metalist last week after CAS upheld sports director Yevhen Krasnikov's five-year ban, imposed by the Ukrainian Football Federation. Krasnikov allegedly helped fix a 2008 Ukrainian league match against Karpaty Lviv.
UEFA's Champions League rules require clubs not to have been involved in fixing national or international matches since April 2007, when its legal statutes were updated.
Fenerbahce officials were convicted in a Turkish criminal trial of helping fix matches during the team's successful run to the national league title in 2011. They deny wrongdoing and have appealed.
UEFA banned Fenerbahce in June from two seasons of European club competitions, but the sanction was frozen pending an appeal at CAS. Fenerbahce eliminated Salzburg in the third qualifying round to earn a playoff against Arsenal. The first leg is in Istanbul next Wednesday.
CAS is preparing to set a hearing date for Fenerbahce's appeal and aims to give a verdict before the draw in Monaco.
Metalist, which was bought last December by new owners reportedly connected to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, also is seeking a legal fixture at Switzerland's highest court.
The club has asked the Swiss Federal Tribunal to examine the 250-page CAS ruling which upheld Krasnikov's ban, in a case which saw several former Karpaty players banned from three to five years. Judges can overturn the sports court's ruling if legal process was abused.
''I want to assure fans that we will fight for the rights of the club,'' Pivovarov said.
Metalist had hoped UEFA would reach a similar verdict to one it pronounced in June on a third Champions League playoff club whose officials were implicated in corruption.
Steaua Bucharest president Gigi Becali had a criminal conviction upheld by a Romanian appeal court in June. Among the charges, he was accused of attempting to pay bribes in 2008 to another club to play well against one of Steaua's rivals for the league title.
However, UEFA's disciplinary panel deferred Steaua's one-year competition ban for a five-year probationary period after ''taking into account certain mitigating circumstances.''
Cleared to enter the Champions League, the 1986 European Cup winner will host Legia Warsaw in the first leg next Wednesday.
PAOK's return to the tournament affects the Europa League playoffs, which it had dropped into after losing to Metalist.
PAOK won't be replaced in the playoffs and its scheduled opponent, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, will qualify directly for the Europa League group stage, UEFA said.
Graham Dunbar can be followed at www.twitter.com/gdunbarap