Ecuador international striker Christian Benitez died in Qatar on Monday of heart failure at the age of 27, the Ecuadorean Football Federation (FEF) said.
Benitez, who played 58 times for Ecuador, was the son of Ermen Benitez, one of his country’s all-time leading goalscorers.
His Qatari club, El Jaish, who signed Benitez only three weeks ago, had earlier reported his death on their Web site.
“Benitez ... felt strong stomach pains, so he was taken in an emergency to hospital where after a few hours he suffered cardiorespiratory failure which ended his life,” the FEF said in a statement on its Web site. “The Ecuadorean Football Federation extends its deepest condolences to the relatives, parents, wife, children and friends of our goalscorer Christian Benitez.”
El Jaish said: “The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player.”
“The player participated for the first time with the team during yesterday’s match against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup without complaining of any health problems,” the club said. “His sudden departure is a big shock for each member of the technical and administrative staff. He was a player that over the short period he was here was regarded for his high moral character.”
Benitez joined El Jaish from Mexico’s America, with whom he won the Mexican Clausura championship in May as their leading scorer with a tally of 30 goals in the 2012-2013 season.
“America Football Club profoundly regrets the passing of one of the team’s most recent idols and joins in the grief felt by the whole Benitez Betancourt family and Mexican, Ecuadoran and world football,” the club said in a statement.
Benitez, nicknamed “Chucho,” came to prominence during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and was helping Ecuador in their bid to qualify for next year’s finals in Brazil, making his last appearance against Peru in Lima last month.
Opponents in the qualifiers such as Argentina’s Pablo Zabaleta and Radamel Falcao of Colombia sent Twitter messages expressing their sadness, with Falcao writing: “We’ll miss you Chucho.”
Benitez spent the 2009-2010 season on loan at Birmingham City in the English Premier League and the club said they would mark the player’s death ahead of Saturday’s opening Championship match against Watford at St Andrew’s.
His former Birmingham teammate Craig Gardner, now at Sunderland, tweeted: “Cannot believe Christian Benitez has died. I had the pleasure to play with him. He was a top bloke. My thoughts go out to his family.”
Benitez scored four goals in 36 appearances in England.