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Hapoel Rishon Letzion defeated crosstown rival and defending champion Maccabi 28-27 at home to take the first game of the best-of-five handball finals last night.

The game was even at the outset as neither team could open up a two-goal lead until the score was tied at eight. From that point on, Hapoel, which is looking to win the championship for the first time in three years, outscored Maccabi 8-3 till the end of the half to take a 16-11 lead.

Hapoel kept a five-to-six goal lead during the first part of the second half, until it was forced to play the game's last 20 minutes without Avishai Smoller, who was red carded after having scored seven goals.

Johann Rushka and Tom Matlon, who led the team with 10 goals, helped Rishon come back toward the end of the match. But a few Maccabi mistakes and the excellent play of Hapoel's Gil Ya'akov ensured the home team's victory.

After the game, Maccabi coach Gilad Maor gave his players a pep talk, emphasizing his team's ability to come back after falling behind by five goals at the half and even six goals during the second half.

Hapoel exhibited solid defensive play for the first 45 minutes of the game, while goalkeeper Andrei Kamishav was outstanding.

At the conclusion of the game, Hapoel's fans raced onto the court as if the team had won the championship.

"It was a tough game," Ya'akov said. "It was very important for us to preserve our home-court advantage and take a 1-0 lead. Now we'll have to get ready for tomorrow's second game."