Africans Abroad: Tau makes Brighton bow at last, Belhanda's quickfire triple

Even as the FA Cup took centre stage at the expense of the Premier League, it was another compelling weekend of action for African players in England and beyond.

For South Africa star Percy Tau, this weekend included a Brighton & Hove Albion debut that's been a long time coming, while Morocco's Younes Belhanda struck a hat-trick that he will never forget.

Here are the main headlines for Africa's players across Europe this weekend.

Percy Tau: Welcome to Brighton

When Tau left Mamelodi Sundowns for Brighton & Hove Albion in July 2018, he surely wouldn't have imagined that he'd have to wait two and a half years to make his debut for the Seagulls.

However, after failing to secure a UK work permit -- partly a consequent of Bafana Bafana's relatively low standing in the world game these days -- he was loaned out to Belgian teams Union Saint-Gilloise, Club Brugge and then, this season, Anderlecht.

At times, it appeared as though Tau's work permit -- and therefore his Seagulls debut -- would never come.

However, one of the few, perhaps unexpected, early up sides of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union has been a reconfiguration of what criteria foreign players need to meet in order to be allowed to play in the top flight.

After being given the green light by the Football Association, his loan spell at Anderlecht was curtailed -- to manager Vincent Kompany's disappointment -- and he was immediately recalled to the Brighton fold.

Brighton boss Graham Potter wasted little time in introducing Tau to his matchday squad, and the 26-year-old was introduced as a 71st-minute substitute in their FA Cup Third Round tie against Newport County.

It wasn't a vintage Seagulls display -- although Tau did at least whet the appetite with a sumptuous touch to collect a high ball and a few moments of eye-catching dribbling -- but Brighton ultimately progressed via a 4-3 penalty-shootout victory following a 1-1 draw.

After introducing the new guy to the fold against Newport, Potter now needs Tau to settle quickly and adapt to life in the Premier League.

Brighton, three points clear of the dropzone and with Manchester City to come on Wednesday, can ill afford the Bafana wideman to start slowly now that he's finally got his chance in English football.

Belhanda's 16 minutes of magic

Morocco's Younes Belhanda may be admired widely for his creative qualities, but he isn't typically celebrated as a great goalscorer.

That perception may need to change after this weekend, as he put Genclerbirligi to the sword with a 16-minute hat-trick for Galatasaray in their 6-0 Turkish Super Lig rout.

Belhanda's treble was enough to take his tally for the season to five goals - equalling his haul for last term - as he single-handedly eviscerated the visitors.

Gala were already leading -- thanks to Mbaye Diagne's first-minute strike -- when Belhanda began his flurry on the half-hour mark.

It was the playmaker's first hat-trick since 2013, when he netted three times for Dynamo Kyiv in a 9-1 victory over Metalurh Donetsk. He also became the first Gala player to score three times in the first half of a match since Bafetimbi Gomis during his memorable stay with the Istanbul giants.

Belhanda later dedicated his hat-trick to his teammate and Norway international Omar Elabdellaoui, who is still recovering after being injured by fireworks on New Year's Eve.

Galatasaray's thumping victory over Genclerbirligi takes them up to 33 points after 17 matches, two behind league leaders Besiktas.

Harit ends Schalke's long wait

Belhanda wasn't the only Morocco international to hit top form this weekend, with the Atlas Lions responsible for star performances in Spain, Italy, and Germany as well.

The pick of the bunch was maverick Amine Harit, who delivered the kind of (rare) performance that emphasises his supreme talent in the Bundesliga as Schalke 04 ended their near-one-year wait for a victory.

Harit, making his 100th appearance for the club, appeared on a one-man mission to end that wait for a first league win that stretched back to January 17 2020 against Hoffenheim.

The midfielder, who had only contributed one assist in his previous 12 games for club and country so far this season, delivered a breathtaking display, weighing in with a hat-trick of assists and scoring another as Schalke ran out 4-0 winners.

It was a magical showing by the playmaker, operating on the left side of the midfield, as he set up each goal of Matthew Hoppe's hat-trick, and completed an eye-catching five dribbles during the course of the fixture.

Elsewhere, Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri scored a hat-trick in La Liga as Sevilla defeated Real Sociedad 3-2, while Achraf Hakimi added Internazionale's second goal away at AS Roma, although Gianluca Mancini's late equalised denied the Nerazzurri all three points.

Right-back Hakimi has already had a hand in nine goals in his first 1058 minutes of Serie A action - a goal contribution every 117 minutes.

Toko Ekambi left to rue missed chances

If Lyon are to maintain their championship aspirations long into 2021, they have to be more clinical than they were this weekend.

While they deserve credit for battling back to draw 2-2 at Stade Rennais after being two goals down, they will doubtless rue a glaring miss from Cameroon's Karl Toko Ekambi early in the contest, before the hosts had extended their lead.

However, there are mitigating circumstances; the attacker had only just recovered from coronavirus 48 hours before the match to take his place in the starting XI, and was surprisingly allowed to play for the full 90 minutes.

He delivered an anonymous display, losing possession on several occasions, and coach Rudi Garcia may well regret his decision to throw the Ligue 1 December Player of the Month nominee straight back into the fray.

Lyon remain one point ahead of PSG with 19 matches played.