Lionel Messi may have carte blanche for a berth in Argentina's FIFA World Cup squad, but behind the Barcelona forward is a queue of talent which Bayer Leverkusen's Lucas Alario belongs to – not least after his recent performances.
With a hand in seven of Leverkusen's last ten goals (four goals, three assists), the 25-year-old has hit form in a timely fashion with the World Cup on the horizon, and he has as good a chance as any of joining Messi in leading the Albiceleste's bid to go one better than they did in 2014, when they finished runners-up to Germany in Rio de Janeiro.
The former River Plate forward has long since been on the radar for his country, and his recent performances – including a goal and assist in Die Werkself's win over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday – have further enhanced his chances of earning recall.
Watch: Alario loving life at Leverkusen
"I'm feeling better by the day here and I'm improving all the time," said Alario, who was praised by Leverkusen's sporting director Rudi Völler for his form explosion since the turn of the year. "His goal [against Gladbach] was a classic striker's goal, the way he protected the ball – he does that really well and that is what we've brought Lucas here for," said the former Germany international and 1990 World Cup winner.
Alario has had a hand in a goal every 103 minutes this season, but that record rises to an impressive goal or assist every 73 minutes since his brace earned Leverkusen all three points against Hoffenheim at the end of January. Thanks to him, the UEFA Champions League anthem is being dusted off ahead of a possible return in September.
Such statistics will be food for thought for Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli with just a few months remaining for him to shed any final doubts and name his squad for Russia. Not that there should be many doubts, given Alario's recent performances.
He has one goal in three brief caps for his country since making his debut alongside Messi in a 1-0 win over Uruguay in September 2016, although he was not summoned for Argentina's final four World Cup qualifiers.
In 2016, he was named by goal.com as the only player not based in Europe in their list of the world's top 50 players. He soon joined the other 49 best footballers on the planet on the eastern side of the Atlantic by moving to Leverkusen and the Bundesliga – a league where he is putting himself to the test on a weekly basis, and rising to the top of the class.
"I don't know if I'd say this is a dream come true, but it's totally different to what I was used to," he told Clarin Esportes. "In every game you play, you come up against great players and there's so much potential in this league. I'm certainly trying to get the most out of it day by day."
With a talented pool of players which includes Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Juventus duo Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, Alario still faces stiff competition for a seat on the plane to Russia, although playing in the Bundesliga is giving him more of an edge.
"It's much different to Argentinian football as the rhythm is so much higher," he said. "You've got to be well prepared physically and mentally to cope. You've got to earn your place in the team here by working hard in training and giving it everything you've got. If you don't do that, the coach's not going to pick you, but I'm cool about this – it's making me grow as a footballer and an individual.
"I'm focused, day by day, on growing in German football."
That growth is currently on a steep upward trajectory, pointing straight towards the ultimate event in international football. Given his record of having scored in every competition he has appeared in throughout his career – from the Copa Libertadores, through the FIFA Club World Cup, Copa Sudamericana and DFB Cup to the Bundesliga – after Messi, it is hard to see beyond Alario.