- Ecuador international Christian Benitez dies at the age of 27
- The forward passed away just a day after making debut for Qatari side El Jaish
- Death prompts outpouring of emotion on Twitter for former Birmingham player
Ecuador international Christian Benitez, the top scorer in the Mexican league last season, has died suddenly at the age of 27.
The striker popularly known as 'Chucho' passed away in the Qatari capital Doha, one day after playing his first game for new side El Jaish.
Having played at the 2006 World Cup as a youngster, Benitez had developed into an important component of an Ecuadorian side bidding to reach next year's finals in Brazil.
His 24 international goals make him the third highest scorer overall for Ecuador's national team.
Jose Chamorro, the player's agent, told an Ecuadorian television station that Benitez had suffered a heart attack and died in hospital, where he had been taken after complaining of abdominal pains.
Manchester United star Antonio Valencia, an international colleague of Benitez who played with the striker at leading Ecuadorian side El Nacional a decade ago, was among those struggling to come to terms with the loss.
"This pain (is) very strong my brother but we love you," the winger wrote on Twitter, where he also posted several pictures of the diminutive forward.
Despite being a footballer who failed to hit the heights in Europe, news of Benitez's death trended on Twitter.
Ecuador's interior minister Jose Serrano was among those who took to the micro-blogging site to comment, writing: "Dear Chucho, thank you for your goals and your happiness."
Sunderland's Craig Gardner, who played with Benitez at Birmingham City between 2009 and 2010, was also moved to comment.
"Can't believe Christian Benitez has died," Gardner wrote. "I had the pleasure to play with him. He was a top bloke. My thoughts go out to his family."
Having only signed Benitez three weeks ago, El Jaish were forced to confirm news of his death on their website.
"The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player," a club statement said on Monday.
"Benitez had recently joined the club from Club America for three seasons. 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.
"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."
The son of former international Ermen Benitez, who is still the top league scorer in Ecuadorian football history, Christian made his name at El Nacional, a club where his father played with great success throughout the 1980's.
After leaving the Quito side, who posted a tribute on their website to Christian on Monday, the South American plied his trade with such success for Mexico's Santos Laguna that he alerted the interest of the English Premier League.
Joining Birmingham City on loan in 2009, the Ecuadorian made his debut at Manchester United and scored his first goal at Liverpool.
Despite a bright start, his impact faded over the season, prompting Birmingham manager Alex McLeish to return Benitez to Santos Laguna in 2010.
After leading the scoring charts, he joined rivals America in 2011 and helped the club win this year's Clausura title -- finishing as top scorer along the way.
He was still contracted to the club until moving to Qatar this month, but America also paid respects to a key player of recent times.
"Christian will always be present in our hearts and we will never forget you. Rest in peace," read the club website.
Benitez's last international goal came when in a 4-1 World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay in Quito in March.
The Ecuadorians, who failed to qualify for the 2010 finals in South Africa, lie third in South American qualifying, with a quarter of the campaign still left to play.
The top four teams in the nine-team group will automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup.