Ecuadorian Football Federation president leads tributes to former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez

The striker was just 27

The president of the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) has led tributes to former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez, who died yesterday morning aged 27 after suffering a cardiorespiratory arrest.

The Ecuador international, nicknamed 'Chucho', signed for Qatari club Al Jaish less than a month ago.

He was admitted to hospital with severe stomach pain hours after making his debut against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup, but died shortly afterwards.

"This morning we woke feeling profound pain, a pain that all Ecuadorians share, after losing an extraordinary human being, a son, friend, husband and player, " Luis Chiriboga Acosta said in a statement on the FEF's official website yesterday.

The FEF president explained the Federation would charter a flight to return the deceased player's body to Ecuador along with his wife, adding that some Ecuador players, including Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, had committed to helping with the process.

Chiriboga also announced that the main pitch at the national team's training ground would be named after Benitez.

Benitez joined Al Jaish earlier in July from Club America, after previous spells with El Nacional, Santos Laguna and Birmingham.

An Ecuador Football Federation (FEF) statement read: "The FEF regrets to inform you of the death of Christian Benitez, the striker of Qatar club Al Jaish and the Ecuador national team.

"Benitez, who was with his new club in Qatar, had a severe stomach pain, which was why he was rushed to a hospital, where after a few hours he suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest, which ended his life.

"The Ecuadorian Football Federation extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family - parents, wife, children - and friends of our striker Christian Benitez.

"May he rest in peace."

Benitez was a regular for his country and made the Ecuador squad for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

Al Jaish were stunned at the player's death so soon after his arrival.

A statement read: "The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player.

"Benitez had recently joined the club from Club America for three seasons. The player participated for the first time with the team during [Sunday's] match against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup without complaining of any health problems.

"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."

Tributes were quick to arrive for Benitez, with Ecuador team-mate Valencia tweeting a picture of the pair together, along with the message: "You will always be my brother, we are experiencing terrible pain, but we love you."

Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner, who played with Benitez at Birmingham, said on the social networking site: "Can't believe Christian Benitez aka chucho has died had the pleasure to play with him he was a top bloke.

"My thoughts go out to his family."

A tweet from Club America read: "You left as a champion, you will always be in our hearts. Rest in Peace Christian Benitez."

A Birmingham statement read: "Birmingham City Football Club is saddened to learn of the passing of former striker Christian 'Chucho' Benitez.

"The thoughts of all associated with the football club are with Chucho's family and friends at this very sad time.

"Chucho's passing will now be marked at St. Andrew's ahead of Saturday's fixture against Watford.

"The Ecuador international was an immensely-popular character during his time at the football club. During a season-long loan from Mexican club Santos Laguna in 2009/10, Chucho made 36 appearances scoring four goals."

PA

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