PREVIEW: WEEKEND ISRAELI ACTION
BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, April 22, 2011
The Israeli Championship Playoffs begin on Saturday with Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona taking on Maccabi Tel Aviv while Leo Krupnik and Maccabi Netanya face a powerful Maccabi Haifa team.

Maccabi Haifa Maccabi Netanya

After advancing to the Israeli State Cup semifinals on Wednesday, Maccabi Netanya will have to shift focus to their first game of the Israeli Championship playoffs against Maccabi Haifa on Saturday.

Leo Krupnik will once again start in central defense for Netanya where he has been a stalwart all season long.

Under the format of the playoffs, the top six teams will play each other once in a round robin format and each team will begin with half the points they had from league play.

With this format, Maccabi Haifa will begin the playoffs in first place with 35 points while Maccabi Netanya will begin in sixth place with 22 points.

It is unlikely that Netanya will be able to challenge for the title but a third place spot and a berth in the Europa league is certainly within range as they trail third place Maccabi Te Aviv at the beginning of the playoffs by just three points.

Maccabi Netanya could be without midfielder Firas Mugrabi who suffered a muscle strain in Wednesday's Cup game. Central defender Omri Ben Harush is also questionable after he left Wednesday's game early.

For Maccabi Haifa, team captain and forward Yaniv Katan is questionable.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Hapoel Kiryat Shmona

Hapoel Kiryat Shmona advanced to the semifinals of the Israeli State Cup for the first time in the club's history on Wednesday and on Saturday they will look to make a strong start to the Israeli Championship Playoffs when they travel to take on Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Los Angeles-born Bryan Gerzicich will start for Kiryat Shmona in his usual defensive midfield position.

After finishing the regular season in fourth place, they will now start the playoffs with 24 points which was half their regular season total. They trail Maccabi Tel Aviv by just one point for third place and the final Europa League spot.

Kiryat Shmona will be without forward Shlomi Avisidris who was arrested yesterday for an attack on a journalist.

Maccabi Tel Aviv will be without starting goalkeeper Liran Strauber and Barak Levy has been called up to the first team and may start in Strauber's absence.