By Terry Daley
January 25 (Reuters) - Juventus striker Fernando Llorente is staking a claim for a place in Spain's World Cup squad after his red hot form has made him a fixture in the Italian champions front line.
The 28-year-old scored his ninth league goal this season, his fifth in as many games, when he met Stefan Lichtsteiner's cross with a deft headed finish as 10-man Juve drew 1-1 at Lazio and extended their lead atop Serie A to nine points.
"It was a good piece of play because Stefan managed to get a cross in and that's what we need to do. It's something that we couldn't do in the first half," said Llorente.
"I had to move the ball towards a particular part of the goal, which wasn't very easy."
Since moving to Turin from Athletic Bilbao in the close season Llorente has established himself as part of Juventus coach Antonio Conte's first choice attack alongside Argentine Carlos Tevez after a tough start.
He rarely featured earlier this season as it took him weeks to get match-fit after being sidelined by Bilbao manager Marcello Bielsa last term after he refused to sign a new deal with the Basque club, which saw him mostly used as a substitute.
After a handful of poor displays, there was speculation that Juventus were going to cut their losses and sell the striker in the January transfer window but Conte stood by his signing.
"He's not played for a year and he's needed more time to rediscover his best form, the necessary intensity and on field aggression. When you don't play for a year you lose these things," Conte said in September.
The Juve coach has been vindicated for his loyalty and persistence as Llorente leads his side's charge towards a third straight scudetto and makes a bid for a place in Vicente Del Bosque's Spain squad for this year's World Cup in Brazil.
He faces a fight for a spot with Chelsea's inconsistent Fernando Torres, Manchester City's in-form Alvaro Negredo, Tottenham Hotspur's misfiring Roberto Soldado plus Atletico Madrid's free-scoring Diego Costa and veteran David Villa.
"Being a footballer is a long career and all sorts of things can happen," said Llorente. "I know that I need to work hard if I want to be at the World Cup, and the most important thing for now is to carry on winning with Juventus." (Reporting by Terry Daley; Editing by Ken Ferris)