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International Eagles: Sorondo Earns Speroni Praise

20 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we will be looking back at some of Palace’s former players who also represented their countries on the biggest stage. With Uruguay taking on Saudi Arabia today, we reflect on the only Uruguayan to don the red and blue stripes.

When pressed to disclose the best players he’s played with during his 14-year association with Palace, Julian Speroni rolls off the usual suspects – Andrew Johnson, Dougie Freedman, Wilfried Zaha, Clinton Morrison.

But one man who Speroni always recognised in these kind of interviews is someone whose Palace career accounted to just 22 appearances. “As a defender I’d say Gonzalo Sorondo,” he told The Guardian in 2015. “He was someone we didn’t see enough of because of injuries, but what a player. Technically he was so strong.”

Palace boss as the time Iain Dowie would agree with the Eagles legend. "I went to watch Bolton play Inter Milan and I just loved the way he was, the way he read the game,” he said at the time. “He was quite tenacious, a very front foot defender with good pace and comfortable on the ball. I said to Bob Dowie ‘let's have a look if he's available' and he was."

When Dowie got his man and Sorondo followed Speroni through the Selhurst Park doors in August 2004, he arrived with plenty of pedigree. He’d been on the books of Inter Milan for three years after being snapped up from his native Uruguay, and boasted 26 caps for his country.

His international career began in November 2000 and the following year he represented his nation in the Copa America, helping them to a fourth-place finish by playing in five of their six matches.  That saw them tipped to a be a dark horse for a deep run in the 2002 World Cup, but they were eliminated alongside France at the group stage with surprise packages Senegal and Denmark advancing instead.

Featuring in a World Cup would prove to be the high point of Sorondo’s career. He found gametime at the San Siro limited, and after spending the 2002/03 season on loan in Belgium, he joined Palace. As Speroni referred to, injuries would restrict his involvement in SE25, and ultimately his career, but when fit he forged a strong defensive partnership with Fitz Hall.

Had he appeared in every game that season, Dowie’s side would probably have comfortably stayed up, and they were on course to do so until Sorondo was sent off against Southampton in the penultimate game of the season, meaning he was unavailable to prevent Danny Higginbotham’s injury-time equaliser or Charlton Athletic claiming a 2-2 draw to serve up relegation to their neighbours on the final day.

The Valley would prove to be Sorondo’s next home as he spent the following season on loan there from Inter, but his career was now in freefall as injuries and fitness took their toll. He would play just 80 more league games in his career after leaving Palace aged 25, before being forced to retire in 2013. Just like Speroni, he is probably left wondering “what if?” his talent wasn’t so cruelly robbed from him.

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