| JERUSALEM, April 23
JERUSALEM, April 23 Maccabi Haifa suffered a
setback in their effort to regain the Israeli league title on
Saturday when they lost 2-1 at home to Maccabi Netanya at the
start of the playoffs.
Haifa had 70 points at the end of the regular season and a
five-point lead over defending champions Hapoel Tel Aviv but
under the playoff system, where points are halved, their lead is
now only two points and Tel Aviv could overtake them on Monday.
Saturday's loss could prove a psychological blow for the
club that lost the title to Hapoel on goal difference in the
final seconds of last season.
Under the controversial playoff system, which is in the
second year of a two-season experiment, all points accrued are
cut by half after 30 rounds of play and the 16-team league is
split into three groups.
Teams who ended the regular season with an odd number of
points had their total rounded up.
The top six sides play each other for the championship and
places in Europe next season, the bottom six play to avoid the
two relegation spots and one relegation playoff place and the
middle four play for cash incentives.
Some clubs, such as Haifa, oppose the system, saying it
diminishes their dominating performances in the earlier part of
the season and gives less deserving clubs an unfair chance of
Israeli Football Association chairman Avi Luzon has hinted
that clubs may be asked to vote on whether they want the system
(Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story