Uefa disqualified the club from European competitions for the 2013-14 season but if Metalist submitted an urgent appeal to Cas, the court could have suspended sanctions, allowing the club's debut Champions League campaign to continue.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, financing for sports programs also tumbled, and only in recent years has it started being built up again. “We are seriously working on our school. We changed almost all the coaches,” Markevych said. “The school has been working for three years: Pitches were built, the guys have somewhere to play, there are uniforms and balls.”
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"The Uefa decision remains in force," said the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), which Metalist had appealed to.
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Metalist has blown away opponents in Europe, thrashing French side Sochaux 4-0 to reach the group stages of the Europa League, before finishing top of a group including Dutch team AZ, Austria Wien and Sweden’s Malmo.
International “interest in the club is growing, as the team is winning and leading its group in the Europa League,” said Danish journalist Poul Funder Larsen, who writes about football in Eastern Europe.
The team’s captain, Papa Gueye from Senegal, plays in defense alongside Argentina’s Marco Torsiglieri; the midfield is full of Argentinians, with Jose Sosa, Juan Torres and Sebastian Blanco as well as Brazil’s Cleiton Xavier; Argentina’s Jonathan Cristaldo and Brazil’s Taison lead the attacking line.
Metalist is solid in defense with full-backs that like to get forward. The team’s biggest strength is going forward, particularly the improvisation and quick brains and feet of Xavier and Taison. Up front, Devic and Cristaldo cause problems with their pace and dribbling, along with their strength and positional play.
He added that Europe’s interest in Ukrainian football will grow in connection with the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, which the country will co-host with Poland, “and then it’s possible that they will find out more about Metallist.”
Although the club is sometimes criticized for its reliance on foreigners – even by its own fans – it has helped the team raise its level significantly this year.
By the 2006-7 season, Metalist was a force to be reckoned with, taking third place in the league, a result it has repeated every year since. Success also came in Europe, including a quarterfinal appearance in 2009.
The Yellow-Blues will play Austria’s Salzburg in February in the Europa League’s round of 32 after a favorable draw on Dec. 16.
But Yaroslavsky’s financial support lifted the club back into the Premier League and secured a top coach in Myron Markevych, poached from Karpaty Lviv.
“The players have to think about the possible points loss as little as possible,” Zavarov said. “Their job is to play.”
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Cas says a final decision in that case will be made by 28 August, after the second leg of the play-off, but Uefa says no decision has yet been made regarding what would happen if Fenerbahce won the tie and lost their appeal.
In many ways, Metalist’s success has mirrored that of Shakhtar. Like Yaroslavsky, Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov has plowed millions into the club and a new stadium.
Metalist has suffered only two defeats so far this season in all competitions, and even triumphed over reigning champion Shakhtar at its Donbas Arena fortress.
Arsenal's Champions League play-off opponents Fenerbahce were banned from competing in Europe in June for their involvement in domestic match-fixing but have appealed to Cas.
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Among the few regular starters with Ukrainian passports are three players who were born abroad – midfielder Edmar (Brazil), goalkeeper Vladimir Disljenkovic (Serbia) and striker Marko Devic (Serbia).
Uefa charged Metalist after Cas upheld a five-year ban against sporting director Yevhen Krasnikov for alleged match-fixing, but the club took up an option of appealing to Cas.
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“Metalist can beat anyone in the Europa League. Also in Ukraine, the Kharkiv team is looking good and proved that in the match in Donetsk against Shakhtar,” said Oleksandr Zavarov, a former Metalist coach and legendary Soviet footballer. “Now Metalist just has to learn not to lose points against weaker teams, but that will come with experience.”
In fall 2010, Ukrainian soccer authorities declared the match fixed, stripping Metalist of its third-place finish in 2008 and deducting nine points, which will come into effect next season, unless CAS rules against the Ukrainian Football Federation’s decision.
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There are hurdles on the horizon. The team will have to pick up its games quickly in February after the winter break for the Europa League’s round of 32.
As Ukraine’s two big-name clubs – Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv – have tumbled out of European competitions this season, a new force has emerged that could break their monopoly on international and domestic success.
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Metalist were due to face German side Schalke next Wednesday in the first leg of the competition's play-off round.
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The club’s biggest threat is off the field. On Feb. 28, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland will begin hearing the case of an alleged fixed match between Metalist and Karpaty Lviv in 2008.
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“Metalist has a very competent and skilled coach who knows which positions have to be strengthened and how to maintain the team’s playing level from the fall,” Zavarov said.
Metalist has been propelled from relative obscurity by the riches of Kharkiv billionaire Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, who purchased the club in 2004. Back then, they were languishing in Ukraine’s second tier.
In the same season, the renovation of the club’s stadium was completed, providing the team with a modern, 38,000-seat location for their matches.
With introduction of competitions for reserves teams of the Higher League and placing 14th out of 15 team in the Second League competition, the team was withdrawn out of the league.
The FC Avanhard Merefa that represented the Kharkiv Glass Factory was promoted to the Ukrainian Second League in 1996. After bankruptcy of the factory, the club was merged with FC Metalist Kharkiv and moved to Kharkiv initially as Avanhard-Metalist Kharkiv. The next season the club was officially renamed into Metalist-2 Kharkiv.
Metalist Kharkiv won its group in the Europa League, the continent’s second most prestigious club competition, and is just five points behind Ukrainian Premier League leaders Dynamo.