BRIAN SCIARETTA - Sunday, April 24, 2011
The Israeli Championship playoffs opened on Saturday with Leo Krupnik and Maccabi Netanya pulling the stunning upset over Maccabi Haifa while Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona fell to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Maccabi Haifa 1 - 2 Maccabi Netanya

Maccabi Netanya opened the Israeli Championship playoffs in strong fashion when they pulled off the away upset over Maccabi Haifa.

American central defender Leo Krupnik played a full 90 for Maccabi Netanya.

Under the format of the playoffs, the top six teams in the regular season qualify for the Championship playoffs with the teams total points earned on the season reduced in half. The teams then play a single round robin format.

In the game, Maccabi Haifa took a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute when Lior Refaelov received a pass from the right wing and hit a hard driving shot with this first touch from just inside the box.

Maccabi Netnaya equalized in the 24th minute when Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch received a backpass but his attempted long clearance was miss-hit. While he attempted to kick it way up the field, it instead was low and ricocheted of Netnaya forward Achmad Saba'a and went right back into the net to even the score at 1-1.

While the equalizing goal may have been a stroke a luck, Maccabi Netanya would take a 2-1 lead via a terrific goal full of skill. On the play Sergiy Tretyak received the ball about 40 yards from goal. He took a few touches before unleashing a powerful right-footed shot that found itself into the top right corner of the goal past Davidovitch.

Krupnik would turn out to be a hero when he saved the win for Netanya late in the second half with a goal line clearance. On the play Netanya goalkeeper Carlos Arias was able to gets his hands on a powerful shot but he wasn't able to completely stop it. The ball continued to move quickly towards goal but Krupnik was able clear it off the line towards safety.

The win now puts Kiryat Shmona into fourth place and only three points behind third place Maccabi Tel Aviv for the final Europa League spot.

Netanya next week returns to action when they host Hapoel Kiryat Shmona and fellow American Bryan Gerzicich.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 3 - 1 Hapoel Kiryat Shmona

After Hapoel Kiryat Shmona entered into the playoffs in fourth place chasing third place Maccabi Tel Aviv for the final Europa league spot, their chances for European play took a significant hit with a sharp loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Los Angeles-born Bryan Gerzicich played the entire game for Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.

Guillermo Israelevich gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a 1-0 lead when he pounced on a poor Kiryat Shmona clearance and hammered it into the net from just a few feet away.

Shimon Abuhatzira equalized for Hapoel Kiryat Shmona when he scored off a penalty kick after Maccabi Tel Aviv was called for a hand ball in the box.

Eliran Atar put Maccabi Tel Aviv in front for good in the 59th minute when he sent a low shot from 12 yards into the lower right side of the net past Kiryat Shmona keeper Shir Tzedek for a 2-1 lead.

Atar added another in the 89th minute when he beat Tzedek to a long ball. He was able to hit a first touch past the keeper and then a second touch into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.

With the loss, Kiryat Shmona drop to fifth place in the Championship playoffs. Next Saturday, they travel to take on Maccabi Netanya.