Christian "Chucho" Benitez reacts after missing a chance to… (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated…)
QUITO, Ecuador -- Much of Ecuador was in mourning Tuesday over the sudden death in Doha, Qatar, of one of its most popular soccer players, 27-year-old Christian “Chucho” Benitez.
Benitez was a stalwart on the South American country's national team, the leading scorer this year in the Mexican league, and most recently an imported star on the Al Jaish team in Doha.
Benitez also was expected to play a major role in Ecuador's bid for the World Cup next year in Brazil. Boosted by Benitez's four goals in qualifying matches, the Ecuadorean team is expected to qualify for the tournament.
He also played on Ecuador’s national team in the 2006 World Cup. The country failed to qualify in 2010.
Benitez helped the America team to the championship of the Mexican professional league in May.
Teammates expressed disbelief after Benitez collapsed and died Monday, a day after playing his first game for Al Jaish. Ecuadorean Interior Minister Jose Serrano wrote on his Twitter account: "Dear Chucho, thank you for your goals and your happiness."
Presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico expressed their condolences to Benitez’s wife and family.
A funeral date was not set. It depends on the arrival of Benitez’s body from Qatar. The Ecuadorean national team said Benitez’s body would lie in state at the Rumiñahui coliseum in Quito.
Reports from Qatar indicate that Benitez was being treated there for severe stomach pains and possible appendicitis when he went into convulsions and then cardiac arrest.
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Jaramillo Viteri is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.